Chester, Penn., — A goal by red hot Anthony Fontana and two others from Ilsinho and Brenden Aaronson spoiled the much anticipated MLS debut of Argentine star Gonzalo Higuaín as the Philadelphia Union defeated Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami 3-0 Sunday night at rainy Subaru Park.
Philadelphia Union’s youth movement spoils Higuaín debut for Inter Miami
It was a terrific soccer game, one much closer than the final scoreline, and a game with a little of everything. Played in a torrential downpour, the game had great saves, brilliant build-up play, cracking finishes and blistering counterattacks. In the end, in a battle of an expansion team’s new global stars against a Supporters Shield contender, it was the Philadelphia Union’s youth movement that won the day, with coveted prospects Fontana and Brenden Aaronson playing key roles in all three Union goals.
Days removed from a mystifying performance at home that Inter Miami captain Luis Robles called the club’s worst performance of the season, La Rosa Negra put in yet another brave effort against the Union, who they played close in an exciting game at the MLS Is Back tournament during the summer. That this solid performance came in miserable weather and on the road against the Supporters Shield contending Union, made Wednesday night’s meltdown against the middling Red Bulls all the more confusing.
Still, Inter Miami won’t put much stock in a moral victory, and the jilted scoreline adds insult to injury, especially in yet another game where if the club was slightly more clinical in front of the net, they likely would have earned something from the game.
“We had many chances today to score, but didn’t have the fortune to do so,” Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso said following the game. “We worked very hard to create opportunities tonight and did but couldn’t score. We need to be more clinical in front of goal.”
A fun soccer game to watch, the chances came early and often.
The Union had the game’s first excellent scoring opportunity, with Fontana playing a delicous ball between two closing Herons defenders to Jamiro Monteiro, who made a late run into the area. Monteiro took a half-turn and fired a shot low and to Robles’s right, only to be denied by the veteran Inter Miami keeper.
Only four minutes later, Inter Miami managed their first great look at goal, and it came in a sequence involving Higuaín. A Union giveaway sent Rodolfo Pizarro off on the break and the Mexican international played a good ball to Higuaín who easily turned his man only to see his shot stay on frame but miss just high.
In the 20th minute, it was again Higuaín showing the movement and quality the Herons have lacked up front, this time finding space in the area only to see his bicycle kick off a slightly errant Nico Figal feed denied cruelly by the woodwork.
What could've been! 😱
Bicycle kick from Higuaín hits off the post. #PHIvMIA pic.twitter.com/y2EsdHtg4x
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 28, 2020
Minutes later, Philadelphia did what good teams do, punishingInter Miami for failing to convert their chances. In truth, the Union were punishing both missed chances and an Inter Miami mistake.
"Say hello to my little friend." -Anthony Fontana, probably#DOOP | #PHIvMIA 1 – 0 pic.twitter.com/Y1gAhCDip4
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) September 28, 2020
Taking a throw in his own third, Victor Ulloa’s overhead pass missed everyone in a white shirt, finding its way to Union shirts with numbers headed the other direction. The end result was the terrific goal (above) by Fontana, the brilliant Union academy product who has scored 4 goals in his last 200 minutes.
After the goal, Diego Alonso changed the Fort Lauderdale side’s shape, presumably to get Higuaín, who started alone up top, more involved. In the new 4-3-3, Higuaín was flanked by Pizarro and Juan Agudelo, with a midfield three of Blaise Matuidi, Ulloa, and Lewis Morgan behind them.
The ploy worked, at least initially, with a good bit of buildup play leading to a splendid bit of work from Higuaín, who corralled a high centering pass, brought it to his feet with his chest, held off a defender and played a perfect ball across to a wide open Morgan, only to see the Scottish international miss the ensuing sitter wide.
“It’s disappointing. I should have done better on mine. We missed others. Obviously we need to be more clinical in front of the net and we brought in (Higuaín) to help us do that. There’s no use in feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to have the maturity to work hard every day and perform better,” Morgan told the media following the match.
Neither side produced another chance in the first half, sending Inter Miami to halftime with at least an equal number of chances but another deficit on the scoreboard.
The good soccer continued in half two.
The hosts had the first terrific chance, with Kacper Przybyłko playing Sergio Santos in down the left channel on the break. The Brazilian took a good touch and firing hard at Robles, was denied by a spectacular save. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez then won a wild footrace to clear any rebound in the nick of time.
Inter Miami would fashion a great chance of their own when, after extended hold-up play by Higuaín, the Argentine chipped a lovely parabola across the field to Ulloa, who fed an incutting Ben Sweat directly through on Andre Blake’s Union goal. The Herons fullback took only one touch, but it was enough for an emergency defender to block his close range shot high, and nothing resulted from the ensuing corner.
Sweat nearly equalized again in the 62nd minute. This time, he took a Pizarro pass and cut in on his right foot, curling a solid shot in at Blake and forcing an acrobatic, fingertip save from the Jamaican international.
62' | FINGER. TIPS. 🙌#DOOP | #PHIvMIA 1 – 0 | @andreblake29 pic.twitter.com/GNkqzWszB8
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) September 28, 2020
It was another close call for Inter Miami, who kept knocking on the door. But that’s the thing about this Union team. They have a way of punishing you just when you think you’re about to knock the door down.
The Union extended their lead in the 69th minute when defensive communication saw Union substitute Ilsinho released free into space where the Brazilain latched onto a good ball from Przybylko and tapped home.
The sequence started with an exceptional run by another Union academy product, Brenden Aaronson, who slalomed his way around multiple Inter Miami midfielders to set the goal in motion.
Watching these two clubs, it was difficult not to see the obvious contrast.
On the one hand, Inter Miami created their chances with a midfield buoyed by French World Cup winner Matuidi and Juventus star Higuaín. The Union showed, however, that in MLS, there’s another way. You can deliver splendid soccer playing your kids and trusting them to make winning plays, which Aaronson and Fontana did Sunday night.
As has been the case nearly the entire season, Inter Miami never quit battling.
Victor Ulloa fired from the top of the area, only to see his headed for goal shot swatted by Przybylko. A penalty was called, giving Higuaín a deserved opportunity to score in his debut. Unfortunately for Inter Miami fans, Higuaín pumped his penalty high over the bar. The Union seemed to delight in the miss a bit too much for Higuaín’s taste, as the Argentine got in the faces of plenty of Philadelphia players, his ego wounded by the bad penalty miss or tired of Union taunts and jersey tugs, and perhaps both.
Despite the missed penalty, Alonso was mostly satisfied with the big Argentine forward’s debut.
“I think he showed he was in good condition,” Alonso told the media after the game. “He’ll need more games and in those games, he’ll do better. He was eager to play today. Obviously the penalty he missed, that ould happen to any player. We’ll continue to work and he’ll perform better.”
That miss all but sealed the result, but the Union would add an exclamation point late in stoppage time.
Inter Miami’s Dylan Nealis, the club’s third selection in the 2020 MLS Super Draft, was stripped of the ball by Aaronson, who skated in on the Herons goal and finished well past Robles to give the Union a third goal. It was an emphatic reminder youth was served Sunday night in Chester, and it waits for no one, not even an aging global star making his league debut.