Resilient Inter Miami hold off Atlanta United, extend unbeaten streak

Inter Miami CF vs. Atlanta United FC

Miami, Florida — Inter Miami remained unbeaten at home with a 2-1 win over Atlanta United Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale. The win also extended Inter Miami’s unbeaten streak to three games  ahead of their restart mini-group finale this weekend in Orlando. 

For a club that dropped its first five games in club history despite being competitive in each game, the turnaround comes not a moment too soon, and is a testament to the club’s resilience and belief.

“There was something said in a leadership meeting that we felt the bounces were starting to go our way. For Lewis to get the goal right off the bat, but then for us to concede right away, but then to come right back and take the lead back, that shows how our mindset is progressing. It shows how we are really developing as a team,” Inter Miami captain Luis Robles said after the game.

After a host of games where La Rosa Negra started quickly only to lament lost opportunities from poor finishing, Diego Alonso’s side again came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. In only the game’s 5th minute, a looping ball from midfielder Victor Ulloa found the feet of rookie Robbie Robinson, who had done well to get in behind Miles Robinson.

Sensing Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan would react to him first, Robinson dished to Rodolfo Pizarro, only to have the Mexican international’s attempt to slot home bravely saved by the lunging leg of Guzan. It was a spectacular save from the longtime U.S. international, but a lost opportunity for the Herons to score in a two on the goalkeeper situation. 

Inter Miami uses aggressive tactic

Inter Miami’s high pressure gave Atlanta fits early, forcing a number of sloppy giveaways that kept the visitors on their heels. Eventually, Atlanta settled into the game, and it was the Five Stripes who had the next chance, when former Atlanta All-Star Leandro González Pirez clipped his old teammate Ezequiel Barco in zone fourteen, just north of the eighteen.

The ensuing free kick from Barco took an odd deflection, but was ultimately gobbled up by Inter Miami keeper Robles. Barco also tested Robles on another spot kick in the 26th minute. However, this time, with the shot coming from a more difficult angle, Robles saved easily to his left. 

However, Inter Miami continued to push. Finally, after 340 excruciating minutes, Inter Miami found a goal. 

An Atlanta corner bounced out towards Pizarro, sending Inter Miami away three on two, as the Five Stripes had pushed numbers forward. With Robbie Robinson occupying Miles Robinson, Pizarro played a ball in space to winger Lewis Morgan, who took a touch inside the area and then whipped a right-footed shot just past the outstretched leg of Guzan and in at the far post. The goal sent the Inter Miami bench into a frenzy — the kind of relieved exuberance usually reserved for game winners. 

Atlanta finds a way back in it

Their celebration was short lived.

A deep, probing run by Eric Remedi was rewarded, when he found his way onto a Jurgen Damm cross. After an initial deflection, the ball bounced up and appeared to deflect off the Atlanta midfielder’s backside before settling into the net. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals for the Five Stripes, but they all count the same — and that one leveled proceedings at a goal apiece. 

Inter Miami responded quickly, scoring their second goal in 10 minutes after failing to score for the prior 340. 

This time, the attack came down the Atlanta left flank, when, after some nifty footwork of his own, fullback Ben Sweat found Morgan with a well-placed cross in the center of the eighteen. With Atlanta slow to close the space, Morgan settled the ball and fired — this time with his left foot — past Guzan to stake the hosts to a 2-1 lead. 

“It was something we knew studying (Atlanta). We knew they push their fullbacks very high and the space in behind was something we could exploit,” Lewis Morgan said of the second goal after the game. “We were able to win the ball in a good area and with players flooding toward Rodolfo Pizarro, I was able to have space to finish it off and did.”

Unfortunately for Inter Miami, their defense again quickly conceded an opportunity for an equalizer. This time, Nicolás Figal, who was the defender victimized on the Atlanta goal, was fortunate to remain on the pitch, shown only a yellow card by referee Robert Sibiga.

The ensuing penalty sequence was pure madness.

Chaos takes over in Miami

First, Barco’s hard and low penalty was saved by Robles to his right. It appeared the save was for naught, with Inter Miami  sleeping on the rebound and Cubo Torres there to slot home for the visitors. However, on review, the goal was overturned, as both Torres and an Inter Miami defender stepped towards goal early. By rule, that is a retake, and the second penalty was again saved by Robles — this time on a hard and low Barco effort to the Robles’s left. 

“Luis was fantastic today. He made two remarkable penalty saves that gave us an emotional push that also allowed us to stay in the game. I’m very happy for him and with his performance,” Alonso said after the win.

At the very least, the wild sequence made for good drama, something that had been distinctly missing from the 0-0 draws Inter Miami had played in their previous two games. As for Robles, he felt, as he said, the was a long overdue shift of fortune for a team that had been competitive, but fallen short, early in the season.

“To make those saves, obviously it’s incredible,” Robles said of the penalty sequence following the match. “We watch a lot of video and you get a feeling for tendencies,” Robles said. “But the most important thing is once I was on the line, I took a breath didn’t allow the moment to be bigger than me. When I made the first save, it was exhilarating. But then you see that two players encroached. There were a lot of emotions in that moment. But I wanted to be big for my teammates and fortunately, that was what I was able to do.”

Second half favors Inter Miami

The second half opened brightly for the hosts. 

Lewis Morgan had two quality looks at a hat trick, only to see both efforts, one with the right foot and one with the left, go begging high. Still, it was remarkable, given his first half performance, to see Stephen Glass’ Atlanta defense giving the young Scottish winger room to operate in the final third. 

However, those two early opportunities were all Inter Miami mustered up for much of the second half. Atlanta controlled the possession and when they did lose the ball, Atlanta quickly won it back by ratcheting up their pressure. Barco, playing centrally as a No. 10 for the first time all season. Jon Gallagher, playing as a pure attacking winger, dazzled, creating multiple chances and winning a number of corners and free kicks. 

But, pinned deep, Inter Miami’s defense held out.

Midfield substitution Blaise Matuidi helped, giving shape and bite to a Herons spine that was tested consistently over the game’s first hour. After his entrance, Atlanta’s search for an equalizer mostly relied on playing the ball to wide spaces and trying to find a cross, a strategy that was easy for Inter Miami to defend with 10 men behind the ball. 

Following the game, Alonso praised his defense, in particular Robles and the work of LGP, who has steadied the back four since arriving and becoming eligible after the MLS Is Back Tournament.

“Leandro has had an immense impact on the team,” Alonso said. “He’s made our defense better and we needed that. The back four has consolidated with him and along with the goalkeeper and better play from the holding midfielders, we’ve become a better defensive team.”

That emerging defense, and this win, sends Inter Miami on to Orlando City SC feeling confident ahead of the first match they’ll play since before the COVID pandemic that will have fans in attendance.

“When you consider our form since returning from Orlando, we’re 2-1-2. That’s pretty good,” Robles said. “And even with an 0-5 start, we’ve got a really good group of guys here. So for us to be able to put it together, to be able to suffer together for 90 minutes, that’s very vindicating. It’s been a long 10 games for us, but it feels like our best days are ahead of us.”

 

 

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