FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Phil Neville talked during the week about Inter Miami heading into the season opener with less than ideal fitness levels due to its interrupted preseason preparations.
That is also one of the things he pointed to after a bitter season-opening loss.
Inter Miami began the 2021 season on the wrong foot, allowing a 2-1 lead in the second half to slip away in a late 3-2 home defeat vs. the LA Galaxy on Sunday afternoon. The game at Drv Pnk Stadium was a tale of two halves for the Herons, which went into the intermission up 1-0 thanks in part to some sound defensive play before conceding three times in the closing stanza.
For Neville, a key component in the starkly different collective performances before and after the break was fatigue.
“I think there was a 10-minute period in the second half where we dipped in terms of our energy,” said Neville. “What we said at halftime was that we probably planned and expected that with the lack of game time that we had had (in preseason), but in those moments what we said to them is keep possession of the ball, just play 1-2 touch, maybe string 10, 15, 20 passes together until you get that little bit of energy back into your legs and into your body.
“We ended up playing long, hopeless balls or aimless balls upfield, which meant that we gave possession away. That was probably the disappointment in two of the goals, especially.”
Chicharito with the double!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 18, 2021
Another thing the Herons pointed to for the loss was a lack of concentration at the back. Inter Miami twice took the lead in the match played in front of a sell-out crowd of 7,939 fans, but conceded equalizers each time to Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez before Sacha Kljestan delivered the winner with a pinpoint low effort that kissed the left post before going in.
Tired legs can lead to tired minds and that in turn can lead to a loss of focus and poor decisions. Whether that was the case against two-goal performer Hernandez and the Galaxy is not clear, though Neville had said in the lead-up to the showdown in South Florida that substitutions would have a big impact in the game due to Inter Miami’s preseason issues.
Exhausted or not, Inter Miami knows it has to address those defensive lapses.
“I think it is a great learning curve for us that if you just switch off for a minute and you just lack that little bit of concentration you get punished in this league,” said Neville. “It is an unforgiving league where we will get punished because we are playing against some of the best players. That is why the players are really disappointed in (the locker room) because they felt comfortable in the game, they felt they dominated the game for large periods.
“We feel as if we created the better of the chances and we have come away with no points. That is the disappointment that we are all facing tonight.”
Star striker Gonzalo Higuain, who had a goal and an assist in the match, agreed with that notion while also pointing to Inter Miami’s overall lack of preparation in recent weeks.
“The preseason was long but we only played (two friendly games). The rest were instrasquad games, which is not the same,” said Higuain in Spanish. “To have only played (two friendly games) and outplayed a team that had a more complete preseason for 70 minutes is a positive thing for us to take away.
“The negative is we need to have more concentration every time we take the lead,” said Higuain. “We cannot let the other team score goals on us so quickly after we score, but that is something that we can correct.”
Inter Miami did take solace in how it played for much of Sunday’s game, and will aim to build on that as the team heads into Week 2. Getting closer to top fitness levels will also be something the Herons work on, however, especially after suffering a lose that shone a brighter light on their physical deficiencies.
“They made substitutions and they brought players on that probably had been playing a lot of games in preseason,” said Neville. “We still are playing catch-up in that respect. It is not an excuse. It is just a fact.”