Inter Miami 1-1 Atlanta United: Josef Martinez is back but Five Stripes cannot hold on to lead

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida — Inter Miami and Atlanta United shared the points in an action-packed 1-1 draw at DRV PNK Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Josef Martinez is back but Five Stripes cannot hold on to lead

Josef Martinez fully announced his return to fitness with his first MLS goal since 2019 to open the scoring in the ninth minute. But the Five Stripes couldn’t hold on, with Scottish winger Lewis Morgan firing home a fine individual effort in the 77th minute to level the game.

Here are three things we learned from an exciting encounter in Fort Lauderdale.

1. Josef Martinez is back

Though he already had seven appearances under his belt prior to this match, Josef Martinez has looked a shadow of his former self at the start of this season. That isn’t a criticism of the Venezuelan, recoveries from ACL injuries take time.

But on Sunday, Atlanta’s talisman fully announced his return to fitness with his first MLS goal in 562 days since scoring against the Philadelphia Union in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. In fact, it was his first strike of any sort since netting against Motagua in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16.

With one touch to get it out of his feet, Martinez fired the shot into John McCarthy’s bottom corner before the Miami goalkeeper even knew a shot was coming. It was a goal dripping in the sort of quality you’d expect from one of the greatest strikers this league has ever seen.

Martinez ran straight over to the Atlanta bench to celebrate with the trainer that have worked so hard to get him back to fitness. Is this the return of Atlanta’s king?

2. A game of two halves

The temperature in Fort Lauderdale was a sweltering 28C at the time of kick-off. In those sorts of conditions, holding onto the ball and dictating play is vital. If you have possession, the opposition has to do all the running, while you can let the ball do the work.

In the opening 45 minutes, the Five Stripes struck this balance perfectly. Gabriel Heinze’s men ended the first half with 65% possession, and had Miami right there they wanted them, with Santiago Sosa and Co moving the ball around with authority to run up a real sweat for the home side.

But at half-time, something changed. Whether or not Atlanta took their foot off the gas is for the players to know, but Miami came out reinvigorated. Phil Neville’s side pressed the visitors much harder and were far quicker to get forward in transition. The Five Stripes simply couldn’t live with it and in the end, the only surprise was that Morgan’s equalizer didn’t come sooner.

If Heinze can channel that first-half performance into future games, Atlanta will be absolutely fine this season, but it has to be a 90-minute effort.

3. Defensive lapses still hurting Atlanta

As has been the case in a few games this season, there was plenty to like about this performance for Heinze. At times, the Five Stripes tore through Miami like a well-oiled machine and could have been two or three goals up by half-time.

But for all their eye-catching play going forward, there is still lots to work on at the other end of the pitch. Morgan’s equalizing goal was a microcosm of that, with Atlanta gifting possession to Miami, then reacting slowly in transition. The Scottish winger was too easily able to drift past Sosa and George Bello to get his shot on goal.

And Atlanta still don’t seem to the defensive organization or individual concentration to defend crosses. Whether from set-pieces or open-play, Inter Miami — and especially former Atlanta defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez — had numerous opportunities to head home crosses into the box.

While Atlanta could have been 3-0 up at half-time, they could have ended the second half three or four goals down. Getting DP center-back Alan Franco up to speed is going to be critical in ironing out these defensive creases.

 

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