A few days after taking the field at home only to help lead a night of boycotted games across MLS in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the fight against systemic racism and the recent police killings of Jacob Blake, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Inter Miami was back on the pitch to resume the third phase of their inaugural season Sunday night.
Their opponent? Fellow expansion side Nashville SC, who hosted the first meeting with their expansion brethren at Nissan Stadium, where the gold and blue clad club will play until their new stadium opens in 2022.
Nashville took control of the game early and created two excellent scoring chances in the game’s first 20 minutes. The first, a deep run by Dominique Badji onto a probing ball from Walker Zimmerman, caught a sleeping Inter Miami defense off guard and ultimately saw the Senegalese forward’s outstanding effort denied bravely by Luis Robles.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) August 31, 2020
Only a minute later, Alex Muyl, newly acquired from the New York Red Bulls, appeared to head home a deflected ball in a scrum near the Inter Miami goal. However, after VAR review, the goal was disallowed as it was determined that Muyl pushed off Herons defender Andrés Reyes to create the space needed for the goal. It was a well-done review, with the proper result by rule, and more importantly for Inter Miami fans, appeared to wake the visitors up and allow the pink and black to come into the game.
The COVID-19 travel schedule, which demands teams fly in on the day of the game, meant Inter Miami arrived in Nashville only 8 hours before kickoff. That could make any team lethargic, but Alonso wasn’t hearing it.
“I think the flight can’t be an excuse. The proof is that in the second half we played well and improved, ran better and we were pressing. If you look at stats, we had 16 to their 5, and we created more chances. So I think it was a matter of (we just) needed to be more focused from the start,” Alonso told the media following the game.
Inter Miami winger Lewis Morgan also declined to offer up excuses.
“I felt fine with the travel; I thought this performance was more about ourselves. The truth is we started both halves slow and we need to be better moving forward,” Morgan said.
Instead, he credited Nashville, suggesting that it was their physicality, as well as their compact and tight defense, that took time for Inter Miami to adjust to before they could create better scoring opportunities.
“Certainly, you have to credit Nashville and the way they defended and made things difficult on us.”
Physicality an issue for Inter Miami
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez also believed the physicality of the game and Nashville’s defense made it difficult to find a rhythm.
“There were 38 fouls in the game?,” Gonzalez Pirez responded when pressed. “We knew how they were organized and good defensively and they dropped deeper and deeper the more we pressed once behind. It is hard to get a rhythm that way, but we generated a lot of shots and pressure and just couldn’t get a goal.”
Inter Miami did finally solve the Nashville defensive riddle just past the half hour mark and found themselves a quality chance when a lovely cutback ball from Lewis Morgan found a late-running Matias Pellegrini. The young Argentine sent a rocket goal-bound which found the arm of Walker Zimmerman.
Per the new rule, the unintentional handball should have resulted in an Inter Miami penalty, but for whatever reason, referee Rosendo Mendoza, having not called a penalty on the field, elected not to go to VAR. In truth, it was a fair break for Nashville, who dictated proceedings throughout the opening half and didn’t deserve to enter the dressing room without at least a share of the spoils.
Both teams entered the scoreless halftime break with plenty to discuss. For the hosts, it was more of the same: strong defense, some nice build-up play, but a lack of the final ball.
For Inter Miami, the final fifteen minutes were positive, but the Herons likely felt they should have had more given the clear Zimmerman penalty.
Finally, in the 54th minute, Nashville broke the deadlock.
A looping ball in from the left flank fell to the feet of Reyes, but the young Colombian couldn’t get much on the clearance, trickling it only to the top of the eighteen. From there, longtime Panama international Anibal Godoy was waiting, and his blast found the upper 90 of the right corner, past the outstretched arms of Robles.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) August 31, 2020
Nashville mades the most of Miami mistakes
Following the goal, Nashville was content to dig in, picking their spots on the break.
It was one of those breaks that Hany Mukhtar was dragged down at the edge of the area by Matias Pellegrini. The foul appeared to be just outside the box, but Mendoza pointed to the spot and after a brief review, the penalty call was upheld. The hosts couldn’t take advantage, however, as Mukhtar powered a blast of the penalty off the woodwork, keeping the game at 1-0 Nashville.
In the 75th minute, Diego Alonso took advantage of the new COVID rules in a unique way, electing to make five total substitutions for the game’s final fifteen-plus minutes. Alonso became the first MLS manager to make five changes at once.
The changes paid immediate dividends.
In the 78th minute, a slicing ball from Pizarro found Lee Nguyen in space, where the veteran was fouled in a dangerous area. The ensuing set piece, taken by Nguyen, was saved well by Joe Willis, resulting in an Inter Miami corner. The Herons nearly leveled on the corner as well, as a sequence of headers fell to the right foot of Brek Shea, only to see the lanky veteran fail to wrap his foot entirely around the ball and keep it on frame.
Still, Nashville was pinned deep, and eventually, content to play with 10 men behind the ball. With numbers bunched in the midfield zones, especially around the always important zone fourteen, Inter Miami were forced wide, with Nashville all but daring Brek Shea and Dylan Nealis to find a teammate with a cross.
The pink and black pushed and pushed, even earning a corner in stoppage time that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez managed to get on frame. But Willis saved that chance easily, and in the end, his sure hands helped Nashville hold on to claim their first MLS home win in club history.
What’s next for Miami?
For Inter Miami, the club will stay on the road next week, anxious to recapture the brief momentum they seized in winning the club’s first game against Orlando just over a week ago.