Header photo courtesy Nashville SC… and what a time it was.
What’s the latest with Inter Miami CF? I caught up with Khobi Price, who covers the team for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to get the scoop on Diego Alonso’s side.
Tim Sullivan: Gary Smith has been very firm this year that he never feels like he has an advantage (or disadvantage) facing a team multiple times in a year. What is the vibe in the IMCF camp in that regard about a third game against Nashville?
Khobi Price: I would say Inter Miami feels similar in the sense that they don’t feel like they have an advantage or disadvantage because the two expansion teams have played each other multiple times this season. Although Miami has a better understanding of Nashville because of the previous matchups, Nashville knows Miami, too. Miami’s a confident group but based on speaking with them and how they’ve operated all season, I don’t think they’re more confident because this will be the third game between the teams.
TS: What sort of impact has Gonazlo Higuaín had on Miami’s approach to the game? Are his (near-infamous, by this point) finishing issues expected to be a short-term blip, or something that may continue to plague the team through the playoffs?
KP: It feels like Gonzalo Higuaín is on the precipice of finally scoring a goal during the run of play. I don’t think his scoring shortcomings this season are an indication of anything than a brief rough patch he’s going through. But in a knockout-style tournament, one missed opportunity can be the difference between advancing or being sent him, so Miami will need him to be dangerous in front of Nashville’s goal — whether that be scoring himself or helping someone else score via an assist or by drawing extra attention by Nashville’s defense. Even if he doesn’t score, he’s demonstrated the soccer IQ that’s made him the player he is and his passing adds a layer to Miami’s attack that they’ve needed.
TS: Both of these teams have added pieces over the course of the year, but certainly Miami’s were (much) higher-profile. Obviously the results are lagging behind a bit, but did those big names help spur the late run to squeak into the playoffs? And is there hope that the upward trajectory will continue into the postseason or next year, or is there an impression that some of the over-arching philosophy will be re-thought going forward?
KP: It’s hard to speak on the team-building philosophy right now, but the players they added throughout the course of the season helped the playoff push — at least a little bit. Miami went 7-8-3 after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez made his Inter Miami debut (6-7-3 with him in the lineup), 6-7-2 with Blaise Matuidi in the lineup and 3-5-1 with Gonzalo Higuaín in the lineup. Miami should’ve finished the season stronger than they did, especially after the addition of Higuaín. But they improved their individual talent and that ultimately helped get them over the hump.
TS: IMCF’s defensive issues were probably the biggest limiting factor over the course of the year. How have they responded after losing their starting keeper?
KP: Losing Luis Robles definitely hurt — both on and off the field as the team’s captain — but John McCarthy has done more than a serviceable job of replacing him in goal. My response to this question ties into my answer for the next one…
TS: What has to happen for Miami to pull the upset? What do you think will happen in the game (including a score prediction if you’re comfortable giving one)?
KP: …which is that Miami needs to stay disciplined defensively to pull off the win. Too many of their losses have come after individual mistakes/lapses in concentration cost them a goal. Miami needs to stay locked in defensively for the full 90 and aggressive on offense, even if they score first or early in the match — both of which have been issues this year. I wouldn’t view Miami winning as an upset because of the talent they have. That said, I expect a close match with Nashville scoring a goal in the final 15 minutes to win, 2-1.
Many thanks to Khobi for his expertise. Check out his work in the Sun-Sentinel, and slide him a follow on Twitter @Khobi_Price.