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Grading Inter Miami: Set-piece success, Gonzalez Pirez’s form, and more

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It took Inter Miami 20 games, but the team has scored off a corner kick at long last.

Inter Miami defeated Orlando City, 2-1, on Saturday via a dramatic Leandro Gonzalez Pirez header in the 89th minute, and that decisive goal was notable for more than one reason. In addition to giving the expansion side a sorely-needed victory in the quest for the playoffs, Gonzalez Pirez’s nodded effort also marked the first time Inter Miami had scored off a corner kick. Ever.

The South Florida team has had season-long issues with attacking set pieces — something that has been written about plenty in this space — but finally made a corner kick count. The winner came off a drawn-up play, too, as Inter Miami sent five players towards the near post to crowd that area and cause confusion against Orlando City’s zonal marking on dead-ball situations.

“We have that play where everyone goes to the first post,” said Gonzalez Pirez after the match. “When I see that space between (Junior) Urso and (Antonio) Carlos, I went there and the ball goes perfectly. I put my head and thankfully the ball goes in and we get the goal.”

It must be said that this was Inter Miami’s 12th corner of the match and Lions goalkeeper Pedro Gallese probably could have come off his line and attacked the ball to punch it clear. Nonetheless, the play from the training ground and Lewis Morgan’s service gave Inter Miami a numerical advantage at the near post that produced the type of look that has not come in abundance on set pieces this year.

As a result, Inter Miami’s scoreless streak off corners is no more and the team now has two goals off dead-ball situations following Gonzalo Higuain’s free kick from earlier this month. Inter Miami also has three more massive points in its postseason push.

Gonzalez Pirez proves he is most consistent

Lewis Morgan has gotten a lot of shine lately because of his attacking exploits and deservedly so. It is Gonzalez Pirez, however, who has been the team’s most consistent and best player this season.

Saturday was a reminder of that.

Gonzalez Pirez once again delivered an impressive performance for Inter Miami in the narrow victory, and it was not just because he scored the late game-winning goal. The physical centerback was a big part of why Orlando City was held to just two shots on target against an Inter Miami defense that has had its issues this year, and his smooth passing was once again superb with a completion rate of 91.2 percent.

It was all in all another stellar showing for Gonzalez Pirez in a season full of them. He has been by and large a rock on the back line since his integration into the group at the start of the resumption of the regular season in August, and continues to help an inconsistent attack generate good play with his range of passes from deep. Just look at his assist in the last game for an example.

This is not to say that the Argentine is immune to bad games or plays. He has had some of those in 2020, but they have been very few and far between and he has been a slight touch above Morgan in terms of overall level of play.

Of course, goals and assists tend to draw more attention than defensive contributions and Morgan has been very good for Inter Miami. Gonzalez Pirez, however, has been steadier and his performances more consistent. At least to this point in the season.

Matuidi massive in midfield

If Gonzalez Pirez was the Man of the Match vs. Orlando City, he only just edged out Blaise Matuidi for the honors.

Matuidi put forth a strong midfield performance against the Lions, impacting both sides of the ball. The Frenchman broke up several Orlando City attacks, four times with fouls, and was pinpoint with his distribution. Matuidi finished with 91.4 percent passing accuracy in this one  — second to only Wil Trapp as far as Inter Miami starters go — and had the most touches on his team.

What’s more, a lot of the balls he played went forward to try and spark the attack. In fact, Matuidi’s excellently-weighted pass down the left wing late in the first half is what led to his shot from inside the penalty box that resulted in Inter Miami’s equalizer. An own goal was credited on that play, but the veteran midfielder was a major reason why it came to be.

Matuidi also showed some intangibles, especially during the game-winning goal celebration when his experience and savvy were on full display. Matuidi in that moment shouted at teammates who were beginning to jog back to midfield for the ensuing restart, instructing them to instead celebrate longer so as to kill off more time.

It was a small part of a massive outing from Matuidi, who has appeared to have found more of his stride and overall level in recent matches. That’s no insignificant thing, not when Inter Miami is fighting for its playoff life.

Inter Miami Player Ratings

John McCarthy (6.5) — His only save was a game-changer in the 88th minute, and he was also good at coming off his line to punch balls clear.

Dylan Nealis (6) — A professional performance, though he almost suffered yet his latest nightmare against Nani in stoppage time.

Nicolas Figal (5) — Misplayed Daryl Dike and the long ball that led to Orlando City’s opener, but was fairly solid the rest of the way.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (8.5) — The late-game heroics will be most remembered from this one. He was, however, also stout at the back.

Ben Sweat (6.5) — Solid defensively, and nearly scored an equalizer with his weaker right foot after making an off-the-ball run into the 18-yard box.

Wil Trapp (6) — Finished with the highest passing percentage at a whopping 97.8, though a lot of the balls he played were of the safe variety.

Blaise Matuidi (8.5) — Made an impact on both sides, moving the ball very well, breaking things up defensively, and helping to create the leveler. One of his best games of the year.

Lewis Morgan (5.5) — Delivered the assist on the late winner and could’ve had another helper earlier, but this was one of his quieter more recent games.

Rodolfo Pizarro (6.5) — Showed nice combination play and individual quality on the ball in his return. Held onto it too long at times, however.

Matias Pellegrini (5.5) — Had a few nice forward passes, a decent low shot that went on frame, and overall looked a tad sharper. Still, he seems a bit overmatched physically.

Julian Carranza (5) — Hit a header off the crossbar and a back-heel to Sweat for a great look, but was largely invisible aside from that.

Juan Agudelo (5) — Never really found the game after coming on to provide fresh legs in the attack.

Robbie Robinson (4.5) — Did not look very engaged and wasted a late counter that could have put the match on ice.

Victor Ulloa (5.5) — Came up with a few defensive interceptions during his 10-minute cameo.

Brek Shea (5) — Saw very little of the ball, though he had one good headed clearance at the back post.

Diego Alonso (6.5) — Another slow start, but the team finished the first half in a much better way than it started and overall went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in the east before nabbing a late winner on a drawn-up corner kick.

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