FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Inter Miami’s defense left a lot to be desired in the season opener, and a big reason for that was due to a lack of pressing from the entire team.
Inter Miami suffered a come-from-behind loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday, with three goals in the second half proving the South Florida side’s undoing in a 3-2 home defeat. Herons head coach Phil Neville and his team pointed to a lack of fitness and concentration for the loss at Drv Pnk Stadium after the match, but it was the former that really impacted the team throughout the 90 minutes.
Aware of the physical limitations that his players had after their interrupted preseason, Neville appeared to have instructed his team to conserve energy by containing and not pressing opponents. Inter Miami rarely challenged for the ball high up the field vs. the Galaxy, preferring instead to try and drop into deeper positions to try and close down spaces by keeping its defensive shape and staying organized.
The strategy worked well in limiting the opposing attack for much of the first half, though the visitors out-possessed Inter Miami during those 45 minutes by a 67.2-32.8 mark.
The second stanza was a different story. The Galaxy better made use of the time and space allowed vs. the passive Inter Miami defending and played around the team easily, with one spell near the hour mark clearly depicting that.
Greg Vanney’s squad starting knocking the ball around Inter Miami players that were visibly fatiguing in that moment, and no one except right back Kelvin Leerdam pressed to try and win the ball. The Galaxy easily moved it around Leerdam, though, and he could do nothing but raise his arms in frustration as he wondered why no one else was tight to their marks.
Ultimately, the Western Conference team was able to capitalize on the room it had to operate in and scored. Both of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s goals came in part due to a lack of tight marking in the build-up, and that helped undo an Inter Miami side that talked all preseason of being a team that wants to keep possession and high press.
It is clear not being at peak fitness played a part in the reactive approach from Inter Miami, but correcting the spacing and not being so easy to play around has to be addressed by Neville at a minimum this week.
Late substitutions hurt Inter Miami
Neville made it clear last week that he thought how he and his Galaxy counterpart Vanney managed the season opener in terms of substitutions could go a long way towards influencing the match, especially given the Herons’ lack of optimum conditioning levels.
That proved to be the case, and not in favor of Inter Miami.
While Vanney made subs as early as in the 58th minute that went on to make big impacts in the game — one recorded an assist and another authored the winner — Neville did not. Inter Miami’s head coach waited until the 72nd to make his first change, but by then several players were looking like they were gassed.
A prime example was left back Joevin Jones, who showed signs of fatigue midway through the second half but was not removed by Neville until after Kljestan scored the decisive goal for the Galaxy. The Inter Miami left back played a key role in that final tally, too.
Sacha Kljestan gives LA Galaxy the lead 😲
This game 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/uadDIgaLvl
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 18, 2021
Jones was a target of a diagonal switch from Nicolas Figal, but could only manage to head the ball to an empty space that Galaxy right back Oniel Fisher got to first. Fisher then dribbled forward into the vacant space Jones had left behind, and try as he might the Trinidad and Tobago international did not have the legs in him to get back and cover the necessary ground.
It also did not help that Rodolfo Pizarro stopped tracking back, seemingly preferring to defer to Jones to put out the fire. It all allowed for Fisher to whip in the low cross that made its way to Kljestan for the pinpoint finish.
Neville had said last Thursday he was “almost convinced” he would make “strategic” substitutions throughout the match and as early as halftime given Inter Miami’s fitness issues, but ultimately did not wind up managing the game that way. He instead waited to make changes, and it proved costly.
Attacking trio of Higuain, Pizarro, Robinson stand out
If there was one really good thing to come out of this one for Inter Miami, it is how the attacking trio of Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Robbie Robinson played and combined.
The three were at the center of most of Inter Miami’s best attacking moments vs. the Galaxy, moving well off of one another and serving as the team’s most dangerous threats in the final third. It is no coincidence that they were all involved in the South Florida side’s opening goal, and again on the play that led to the second-half penalty kick that Higuain cooly converted.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) April 18, 2021
There were still several times when the decision-making could have been better, especially in the cases of Robinson and Higuain, but this was a very good first showing together. Making it all the more impressive was that — due to the aforementioned fitness issues — Inter Miami was able to threaten the Galaxy’s back line despite sending very few numbers into the attack on a regular basis.
You should expect more players to get forward more often once they get their legs under them, and that should only make Inter Miami an even more dangerous side.
Inter Miami Player Ratings
John McCarthy (3.5) — Came off his line well to deal with crosses but his mishandling of one gifted Hernandez the Galaxy’s second equalizer.
Kelvin Leerdam (5.5) — The most sound player on the Inter Miami back line, though he got caught upfield on the build-up to the Galaxy’s first equalizer.
Nicolas Figal (4.5) — A monster first half and a shaky second. Was involved in both of Chicharito’s goals, and seemed to want to hit long balls too often.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (4.5) — Very good in the first 45, but his ball-watching proved costly on the initial leveler and he should have better closing down Fisher on the decider.
Joevin Jones (4) — Needed to track Chicharito on the Galaxy’s second tally and was partially to blame for the winner, though he was visibly gassed and needed to be subbed out well before then.
Gregore (5) — Showed good fight in the middle, but his understanding with central midfield partner Blaise Matuidi needs work.
Blaise Matuidi (5) — Was good at winning balls in the first 45 before fading and becoming easier to play through after halftime.
Lewis Morgan (4) — Not up to the standard he has set for himself. Largely a non-factor before being the first Heron to get substituted.
Rodolfo Pizarro (7) — The best Inter Miami player on the field. He constantly tried to make things happen, hit a sublime through ball to help set up the opener, and earned the penalty that Higuain scored.
Robbie Robinson (6.5) — Scored, strong when hitting in transition in open space, and played the pass that set up the spot kick. Should have done better to close down Vazquez on the cross that resulted in Hernandez’s second goal.
Gonzalo Higuain (6.5) — Calm with his penalty, unselfish with his assist, and unafraid to pull the trigger on several other instances. His touch let him down a few times, though.
Federico Higuain (4) — Pull a shot wide on a glorious opportunity to save Inter Miami from defeat.
Victor Ulloa (N/A) — Had a look from outside the penalty area that was well off the mark in an otherwise uneventful stint off the bench.
Josh Penn (N/A) — Did not really influence proceedings after coming on late.
Sami Guediri (N/A) — A very late cameo for his MLS debut.
Phil Neville (4.5) – Was limited in what he could tactically by the overall lack of fitness. Still, that makes his decision to make subs so late all the more head-scratching, especially in a game he said could be decided by personnel changes.