No Messi, Big Problems

The Inter Miami Herons suffered their first loss in the Messi-Miami era Saturday night as they went to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and fell to Tata Martino’s former team 5-2. Inter Miami were on a 12 match unbeaten streak in all competitions, including their last win a week ago over Sporting KC (which was their first match without Lionel Messi in the lineup). The Sporting KC result was a bit of a surprise to many considering that eight Inter Miami players were away on international duty. However, against Atlanta United on Saturday is where we saw a lot of the impacts of those players being missing from the club since most of them were rested on the bench during the game even though they were technically back and available to play for Miami.

Rumors had swirled around the press that Messi was injured during international duty when he represented El Albiceleste against Ecuador in the World Cup qualification match. After Messi had the brilliant late game winning free kick golazo, he asked to be subbed out of the game due to some pain in his leg muscles. If you know him, you know that Messi asking to come out of a game is highly unusual. So the pain had to be significant at that moment for him to make that request. Messi did not play in the subsequent match for Argentina against Bolivia at high altitude. Which was unusual as well. Many people looked at that as a positive sign that Messi might be playing Saturday night for Inter Miami and wanted to avoid the physical drain that playing at high altitude in La Paz could cause. I however, was not so convinced and had my concerns that Messi was not playing due to injury. Those concerns were amplified when it was announced by Inter Miami that Messi would not be traveling to Atlanta with the team after returning to training in Fort Lauderdale.

It was obvious that Atlanta decided they were going to be aggressive and announced an attacking lineup because Messi was not playing. When Jordi Alba was also announced as a non-traveling member of the team, I believe Atlanta knew at that moment they would be attacking relentlessly. Jordi has been very important in keeping Inter Miami defensively solid in the back and starts a lot of attacking actions for the Herons. Alba’s presence was greatly missed as well as Messi’s. Atlanta caught Miami in possession too many times and those turnovers were quickly transitioned into overloaded attacks where Miami’s backline just was not prepared to deal with effectively. When you’re caught out like that after bad passes, it is very difficult to react. Couple that with the clinical finishing of Atlanta and you get a one-sided 5-2 scoreline.

The fact that Major League Soccer does not have goal line technology or offside technology for reviewing when goals are scored from tight offside or onside calls is really a travesty. The MLS is fighting to be taken seriously as a respectable domestic league that attracts top quality footballing internationals and the best way to progress towards that is to integrate these technologies asap. We can’t leave these aspects of the game solely to the human eye. The fact that we had 2 goals to review and no one could say for sure if the ball crossed the goal line fully for the goal to be awarded or if a player was offside when he looked offside would be comical if it wasn’t so impactful to the playoff race. In both cases, both of those calls went against Inter Miami. With that said, even if you disallowed those two goals, the Pinks would have still lost 3-2. Atlanta was just that good when it came to ruthlessly  finishing their chances. They scored 5 goals when their expected goals based on the quality of their chances were around 2 goals for the game. Which was similar to Miami’s expected goal totals.

The good news is, all of the teams that Miami is chasing to make the playoffs drew their games in the primetime window. Which means that Miami only dropped one point in the run-in and still has 2 games in hand to make up the points on those teams. Leo Campana did his best to keep Miami afloat with his unique ball skills and ability to finish in the 6-yard box while Messi and others were gone for the international competition window. I refuse to call it a break because none of these players actually got a break during that time. Miami will need to get healthy quickly as they have a congested upcoming schedule with 5 matches in the next 15 days, including a US Open Cup Final in 10 days. Up next, Miami will take on Toronto on Wednesday at DRV PNK Stadium. Vamos Miami!

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