Inter Miami CF Showed Flashes but Settle for 2-2 Tie with D.C. United

Miami D.C. United

Fort Lauderdale, FLA soggy evening at DRV Pink Stadium saw D.C. United rain on the Inter Miami parade, coming from behind to tie the match 2-2. Miami had a brief 2-0 lead in the game and was unable to put United away albeit playing some fanciful fútbol. 

Miami played one of its better first halves of the campaign with Bryce Duke and Robert Taylor engaging in some beautiful and inspired fútbol. Duke was the midfield conductor the team has been lacking all season. Bryce flashed all over the field, defending and creating opportunities for his teammates. Robert Taylor was a menace for the D.C. United defense, his slippery moves out on the wing had DC on their heels. The flow to the start of the half was the most aesthetically pleasing the Herons have provided all season. 

Robert Taylor at the 21’ controlled the ball with a magnificent touch at the top of the United box, did a body fake to meg the first defender, then pushed the ball past the second and shot on goal. The shot was blocked by Bill Hamid the goalkeeper, but the electrifying sequence hyped up the home crowd. 

At the 28’ left-back Kieran Gibbs had to be substituted because of a groin injury. Ryan Sailor came on for Gibbs, and coach Neville shifted the team formation to a 3-5-2. The tactical change allowed the Herons to gain even greater possession of the ball, and at the 30’ Leonardo Campana scored the first goal of the game. The buildup to the goal was wonderful to see. On a throw-in, Mcvey threw the ball to Duke who touched it cleanly back to Mcvey, Chris then dribbled past several defenders laying the ball off to Campana, Leonardo immediately pushed the ball out to Ariel Lassiter on the wing, and Ariel receives the ball and looks up to see Campana charging into space while pointing to the spot where he wanted the ball placed back to him.  Lassiter perfectly served the ball into the space dictated by Campana and Leonardo subtly put the ball in the back of the net. Golazo and a 1-0 lead.

Damion Lowe scored his first MLS goal on a violent header off a corner kick cross by Jean Mota at the 44’. The Herons were up 2-0 and the fans were feeling a rout was coming. Unfortunately, a fluke goal by DC’s  Taxiarchis Fountas right before the end of the half made it 2-1. Julian Gressel put a cross into the area, and Michael Estrada redirected the ball with a backheel perfectly for Fountas to tap it past Callender. 

Early in the second half, Bryce Duke filtered a magnificent pass to Ariel Lassiter behind the United defense. Lassiter finished the play with a left-footed strike past Hamid, but the linesman called the play offside. Duke’s vision on the play was fantastic and Lassiter’s finish showed a winger that’s becoming more confident and ruthless. 

Joevin Jones and Indiana Vassilev came on the pitch at the 71’ for Robert Taylor and Bryce Duke respectively. At this point in the match, I did not understand these substitutions, but Neville clarified his reasoning for them at the press conference. After the substitutions, the squad shifted to a 5-3-2 formation. 

At the 74’ Taxiarchis Fountas took on Chris Mcvey and Joevin Jones on the wing, megging Mcvey while splitting both defenders en route to the Heron box. Fountas then sent a pass into Russell Canouse who flicked the ball to Ola Kamara, the forward touched the ball past the reach of Drake Callender for the goal, tying the game at 2-2. Russel Canouse received a second yellow at the 91’, leaving DC to play with 10 men for the final minutes of stoppage time. Inter was unable to score and the match ended 2-2. 

Postgame Press Conference

“It’s been a long night,” said the coach as he began his press conference. The match began one hour and fifteen minutes after its scheduled time of 8:00 pm. Although the team gave up a 2-0 lead, Neville was pleased about the team’s performance against United. On the flip side, on Tuesday night IMCF defeated the South Georgia Tormenta FC and the coach was not very pleased.

“There’s lots I was pleased with considering my feelings after the game on Tuesday.”

The Herons had moments of poetic possession, moving the ball around the pitch gracefully, flowing effortlessly from player to player.  At times, we got to see what this team could be in its best form. Phil did not hide the fact that he believed the team should have had a better fortune at the conclusion of the game,

“The disappointment is that we didn’t get the victory we thought we deserved.”

Nothing is deserved in pro sports, everything has to be earned. Miami was the better team for the majority of the match on Saturday, but the lapse in focus individually and as a team continues to cost the Herons. If this team is to continue progressing and at some point become a contender in the MLS, the focus and effort must never waver. The coach also mentioned that as a team, the feeling is that current standing is not a true indicator of the squad’s quality,

“We feel as if we are better than the position we are in.”

Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” The Herons are 3-6-2 and near the bottom of the standings. That is the reality of this club. There is the potential to be better based on the talent on the roster, but that is yet to translate onto the pitch for anything other than short glimpses.

Coach Neville spoke highly of both Bryce Duke, Ryan Sailor, and Robert Taylor after the game. Both attacking players had perhaps their best games of the season, and Sailor was once again solid in defense,

“I do think Bryce Duke is going to be a really, really good player too.”

I have stated in the past that Duke is a budding star, Saturday’s game could be the beginning of his bloom. The Herons have been looking for their best midfield combination, and Gregore, Mota, and Duke might just be that group. The three players all played a nice game against D.C. United, but Duke was something special. The Duke of Miami claimed ownership of the team and played his heart out. Bryce was energetic both attacking and defending for the Herons. The young player took a big step against DC, and now he must maintain that level of play consistently. If he does, he will be a player that Neville has to think twice about before substituting. 

“Robert Taylor, I thought, had his best game for us. I thought he was in possession, he was dangerous.”

Taylor’s parents were in attendance Saturday night, and they witnessed their son take his game to a level we had not seen before. Robert was confidently taking on defenders with an array of moves that displayed his technical ability and speed. Robert has made a strong claim to the winger position opposite Ariel Lassiter. This emergence from Taylor gives Neville several options in regard to Robbie Robinson. Taylor as a starter on the wings allows Robinson to be a super-sub at various attacking positions. Robbie can come in for Campana late in games if he tires, or on the wings for Lassiter or Taylor. 

Ryan Sailor is a talented defender and has fit in perfectly with this team. He came in on Saturday due to the Gibbs injury and had a good game. Ryan comes in and does his job, period. A defender that provides confidence for his coach and teammates is a big asset.

The Jamaican King Damion Lowe spoke like a leader when answering questions from the reporters after the game. I asked Damion about his impression of Ryan Sailor as a young center back, this is what he said, 

“He’s doing a decent job, he’s confident, his communication skills are pretty good, he’s working hard in training, he’s a good teammate. Everyone is just happy to have him here, and we just have to continue to help each other and help him grow as a young defender.”

These are encouraging words from the undisputed leader of the Heron defense. Under Lowe’s tutelage, Sailor should continue to grow as an emerging young talent for IMCF. 

Final Thoughts

Ironically, a 2-2 tie with D.C. United felt better than a 3-1 victory over USL League One South Georgia Tormenta FC. The team had bright spots all over the pitch on Saturday night. Drake Callender continued to play well and is showing that he can be the number one goalie for this franchise. Damion Lowe returned to his best form, leading the defense with his solid play. The team needs for the backline to continue to consolidate itself because the Herons require a strong defense if they are to make a run in this league. The left-back position is still up in the air. Gibbs was injured again, and Jones did very little against D.C. United. Noah Allen is still in play, unless Neville uses Sailor or Mabika with Lowe at center back, sending Mcvey to the left-back position. 

The midfield as a unit had its best game of the season against D.C. United. I have questioned Gregore’s play all season, but on Saturday he displayed all of his talents. Gregore defended vigorously and was good with his passes out from the back. If this is the Gregore that the team is going to continue to get, then the pivot is in good hands. Mota continued to play as a box-to-box midfielder, defending and helping Bryce Duke create for the team. He is necessary to connect the midfield. Bryce Duke laid a claim to be the conductor of the midfield for Miami. Duke’s evident talent only lacks consistency, if he puts it all together he will undoubtedly be one of the better midfielders in this league. His future is bright and his ceiling is high, but excellence must become a habit. 

Ariel Lassiter, Robert Taylor, and Leonardo Campana make a formidable front line for Miami. Lassiter is like a shark who has tasted blood after scoring a brace on Tuesday night against Tormenta FC. He looked aggressive and has put together a nice run of solid games for Miami. Campana continues his love affair with the goal, scoring at a nice rate. He is surely cementing his place on the Ecuadorian National team that will play in the World Cup in Qatar later this year. Taylor is ready to be the starting winger opposite Lassiter on this squad. It’s a winning situation for Neville because Robbie Robinson off the bench gives the coach options. Taylor’s emergence is a losing situation for Higuain because it could place him deeper into the bench. 

Phil Neville did a nice job tinkering again with the starting lineup, and this just might be the one. The only spot that feels unclaimed is the left-back position. Gibbs is injury prone, and Jones has not shown much in his return from injury himself. Noah Allen stands in line waiting, while Chris Mcvey is always a reliable option. 

The substitutions of Duke and Taylor simultaneously took off two of the Herons best players on the night off the pitch. This allowed DC to gain possession and eventually tie the game. Neville was forced to bring Higuain in to provide a spark, but even with a man up Miami could not find the game-winner. Neville stated that Taylor suffered a bruised foot in practice and was going to be substituted at the half, but Taylor requested to stay on. This explains why a player that did not look tired and was having a fantastic game was brought off. Duke was taken off to put Joevin Jones in on Mcvey’s side and help shore up that area of the field. The move backfired for Miami, and DC regained control of the midfield. Duke was perhaps the best player in the game, and at his age still had a full tank of gas. Personally, I’m not a fan of trying to ice games that your squad is in complete control of. We’ll never know, but my gut tells me that with Taylor and Duke on the pitch for the whole match Miami wins that game. Each scenario and match is different, but these guys were feeling it, and the subs that came on did not provide the energy nor the defensive prowess that was expected.

IMCF looked very good at times on Saturday night. Phil Neville might have found the base for his starting team, and he might have also learned that when you have a team on the ropes, perhaps you should go for the knockout blow and not be so conservative.

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