Atlanta, Georgia — Inter Miami knew that a trip to Atlanta, usually one of the more formidable tasks for a visiting team in MLS, represented a rare opportunity. To get a reeling Five Stripes team in a stadium of echoes instead of one playing in front of their loyal thousands only heightened the sense of urgency.
“Atlanta is a wounded team,” Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso told the media via Zoom ahead of the match. “We knew if we put in a quality performance, we could leave with the three points.”
In the buildup to Wednesday night’s game, Inter Miami midfielder Victor Ulloa agreed with his manager.
“Look, it was a quick turnaround (from Sunday night’s game at Nashville). But we know we are close and can play well. Atlanta likes the ball, they’ll try to build from the back and keep the ball and we have chances to press them high and see if we can win the ball in dangerous places and have opportunities to attack. We look forward to it.”
That positive attitude did help Inter Miami capture the first road point in club history, but it didn’t help the team find a goal, as they were held scoreless for the second consecutive game on the road.
In a chippy, sloppy affair that produced 39 fouls and no goals, , it may have been a somewhat disappointing result for Inter Miami, playing an Atlanta team not only lacking superstar Josef Alexander Martínez, but also only hours removed from the news that their other South American star, Pity” Martínez, had come to terms with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr FC, a move first reported by The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas. Martínez had shown well since the dismissal of much-maligned manager Frank de Boer, scoring a brace against Nashville at home late last month, and his loss was clearly felt Wednesday night.
Alonso didn’t find the performance disappointing.
“I thought it was a complete performance, maybe the most complete game the team has played,” Alonso told the media following the game. “The team really deserved to win. We were lacking the final ball, but we had a clean sheet, only the second time that Atlanta has failed to score at home in their club history. So, I think we had a very good performance.”
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) September 3, 2020
Grumblings despite one point for Inter Miami
Defender Nicolas Figal was less pleased than his manager.
“Every point is valuable, but we could have gotten more in this game and I thought we were the better team,” Figal said. “They had possession, but we created chances. They weren’t really near our goal. It is bittersweet, because I thought we could have gotten more, but we are glad to get a point.”
Figal’s frustration may have had to do with how limited Atlanta was Wednesday evening. It also had to do with a physical game where, with 39 fouls, it was difficult for Inter Miami to establish a rhythm in attack.
“Wow, 39 fouls?,” Figal said following the game. “Clearly, it was a very physical game and when you are trying to build up and attack, it’s difficult when there are that many disruptions in play. But we clearly had the better chances tonight in attack, and we need to take advantage when they foul. I think we missed chances, including the one I missed, that would have opened the game up.”
Without Martínez, Atlanta presented Inter Miami with a team short on attacking verve– and a chance, one would have thought– to capture the South Florida club’s first road win in club history.
Instead, the Herons settled for a draw, and in truth it was surprising, given Atlanta’s obvious attacking deficiencies, to see Alonso’s Inter Miami play very reactively, sitting back and declining the invitation to pressure high they discussed Tuesday ahead of the game.
Meanwhile, Atlanta United had plenty of the ball, with 60.4% possession in the game by evening’s end, but it was largely aimless possession, with little attacking bite.
Both sides produced only one quality chance in the first half.
For Atlanta United, it came early, when Cubo Torres was set up beautifully in the center of the eighteen by Brooks Lennon, only to see his effort in space float harmlessly high. It would be, in truth, the best chance the Five Stripes would muster all night.
For Inter Miami, it was Lewis Morgan, who was dangerous again after a fine game in Nashville, setting things up, beating a man down the right flank and putting the ball on a platter for Argentine Nicolás Figal, only to see the defender spoil a great run by missing the goal entirely from three yards.
As a defender with only four goals, Figal isn’t terribly used to those types of golden chances. But he has to at least pressure Guzan, and the failure to do so is the latest example of why Inter Miami’s haven’t been able to get on the right side of the thin line between winning and losing.
GUZ with the clean sheet and Golden Spike on the night 👍 pic.twitter.com/DdSvzhWY3P
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 3, 2020
Second half spurns some action
The game opened up a bit in the second half, and Inter Miami nearly seized the lead on a set piece early in the second half, when a good ball found the head of Ulloa who slotted the ball across to an on-running Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in space. Pirez would have loved to find the net in his first game back in Atlanta, where he was a fan favorite, but he couldn’t quite get his foot around the ball and his tap-in effort sailed high.
In the 59th minute, a midfield giveaway by Atlanta helped Inter Miami find numbers the other way with Rodolfo Pizarro leading the break, only to see the Mexican international’s ball to Morgan too far wide, allowing Guzan to collect Morgan’s subsequent return cross towards Pizarro.
In the 68th minute, Reyes appeared to clip Brooks Lennon, who had gotten in behind the Inter Miami defense. Young referee Guido Gonzales Jr. did not call a foul, however, suggesting that the young Colombian managed to get the ball first.
A VAR review ensued, but the call was upheld, likely due to a lack of “clear and obvious” evidence needed to overturn. In any event, it was the first- and only — danger the Herons faced in the second half, as the visitors did a nice job dictating proceedings even without the bulk of possession.
Unfortunately for Inter Miami, while they did a great job bottling up Atlanta’s attack, they could muster very little in the way of chances of their own.
Brek Shea had a half-chance on a volley from a brutal angle that forced a Guzan save, just before he was substituted in the 78th minute. A nice piece of interplay between Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini forced an emergency clearance by Miles Robinson in the 82 minute. Beyond that, Inter Miami did little to pressure the Atlanta defense and almost nothing to make Brad Guzan uncomfortable, at least until the game’s final, frenetic minutes, when the Herons ratcheted up the pressure in Atlanta’s final third but could not put together the final ball.
Still, Inter Miami did make a little history Wednesday night, and the first road point in club history is something to build on as the team returns home to play Nashville SC on Sunday night.