ATLANTA, GA. – For weeks, Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso praised the number of first half chances his improving team was creating, but lamented his team’s inability to finish those chances. He’d yet to record an Inter Miami road win.
Inter Miami Gets First Road win in Complete Performance at Atlanta
“We are creating plenty of chances, but we still have to be more clinical in front of the goal. If that happens, we will get the results we play well enough to earn,” Alonso told the media earlier this month.
Saturday night in Atlanta, Inter Miami made good on their manager’s promise.
La Rosa Negra scored twice in the game’s first fifteen minutes, converting their best two early chances, staking their claim to a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish on their way to the first road win in club history. It was a complete win, where the club outshot Atlanta 14-8, committed a season low 11 fouls, and never trailed.
The first goal came just a minute after the opening whistle, on what was one of the prettiest passing sequences the Herons have put together in their inaugural season. Break Shea played a probing ball between the lines down the left flank. The ball eventually fell to Lewis Morgan, who sliced the ball across where, after a half-clearance by Atlanta, it fell to Juan Agudelo, who took a beautiful half-turn and finished cleanly to give Inter Miami the lead.
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Atlanta would answer quickly, continuing a troubling trend Inter Miami have had of late where they quickly concede equalizers.
On the Atlanta goal, Jeff Larentowicz played a pass down the left to George Bello, where the Atlanta youth academy prospect played a lovely pass to Jon Gallagher in space. The Irishman took a quick touch and blasted a left-footed cannon past a helpless Luis Robles, leveling the game at 1 in only the 5th minute.
The game was only level for six minutes before Inter Miami responded.
This time, it was the Herons talismanic playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro producing a moment of magic. Played a ball down the right, Pizarro took a touch and cut goalward, with defenders closing in quickly. As the Mexican international approached the endline, he pinged a lob wedge over the Atlanta defense to the 6’3 Shea, whose welcoming head was waiting. The big Texan buried the chance, scoring for the second time in as many games to put the visitors back in front.
The goal was the high-water mark of an outstanding attacking half for Inter Miami, which saw the fledgling club collect 10 shots, create 5 chances and place 4 shots on the Atlanta goal.
As for Shea, this was the second consecutive game where the well-traveled MLS veteran scored, and his influence on the club, both with his play and leadership, has been a welcome development in Fort Lauderdale.
“We’re very happy with the performances of Brek,” Alonso said following the game. “He joined us late and was coming off a serious and longtime injury. He’s worked hard, is gaining a rhythm to his game and is helping us improve in training as well.”
For Shea, it’s been a long road back, but he’s relishing being healthy and the chance to contribute in a new locker room.
“I’m happy, we’re happy,” Shea said. “I was out a year and three months. It was tough and it’s hard to get back but I’m having fun and love these guys. We got the three points and more importantly, it was really fun out there. It’s enjoyable to play with these guys.”
Another key to the team’s improvement?
The steady, tempo-setting play of Blaise Matuidi, who from deep-lying positions moved the ball to attacking players well all evening. Alonso might want to see a few more attempts at line-breaking passes from advanced players, who, beyond Shea and Pizarro, tended to challenge Atlanta defenders off the dribble instead of look to pass first.
But with the French international Matuidi a stabilizing force in midfield, Inter Miami’s legion of pacy one on one attackers finally don’t have to concern themselves with being disconnected from the midfield or starved of service.
Juan Agudelo credited the French midfielder for not only connecting the midfield to Inter Miami’s attacking core, but also making the Fort Lauderdale club’s attack more diverse.
“A player of the caliber of Matuidi, just his experience has helped us. Most of all, having a lefty that can open up and play that ball to the left-winger- which was Brek today– that’s big. There are a lot of players in midfield who are comfortable with their right foot, but to play that ball across the body they have defenders there to cut it out. Matuidi’s left foot opens up things, and it has made us more dynamic.”
With the lead, Inter Miami didn’t need to be dynamic.
They backed off the pressure around the one hour mark in the second half, content to defend their advantage. The gamble appeared to pay off, with the Five Stripes unable to break the Herons down in build-up play. That didn’t prevent Atlanta United’s counterattack from looking dangerous.
Indeed, in the 69th minute, a Ulloa giveaway sent Atlanta off to the races on the break, with the end result being a terrific Franco Escobar chipped to Cubo Torres in the six. The Mexican striker headed the ball into the Atlanta turf, forcing a spectacular across his body save from Luis Robles, who had been leaping the other way to try to cover his far post.
Even later, on an Atlanta corner in the 89th minute, Luis Robles got a big paw to a dangerous Atlanta United corner, squelching another Red Stripes foray for an equalizer. The save and late corner clearance were the latest reminders of how important the Inter Miami captain is to the side and it kept three points within reach for the visitors.
Those chances were, however, as close as Atlanta United would come to finding an equalizer. The win improved Inter Miami to 2 wins and a draw in three games against Atlanta United, the gold standard in MLS expansion who won a MLS Cup in only their second season.
That’s an impressive haul for Inter Miami, even considering the injury, roster and coaching drama that has plagued Atlanta United’s 2020 campaign– and it is one that has kept the Fort Lauderdale side very much in the playoff conversation as the longest summer in MLS history slowly bleeds into autumn. This win, however, had the feel of a team turning a corner.
“I think undoubtedly this was the best match we’ve played,” Alonso said following the win. “We had control of the ball in the first half. We managed the spaces (defensively) in the end. We defended with the ball in the opening half and worked well to close space in the second half. We finished our chances. I consider this our most complete performance.”
The road ahead will be harder, beginning with Wednesday, when the New York Red Bulls visit Fort Lauderdale. But there’s confidence building in South Florida, and with it, just enough season left to make something special out of a strange inaugural campaign.