In the 2020 season, two sides joined the MLS expansion; Inter Miami CF and Nashville Soccer Club. The season was paused due to the COVID 19 outbreak after only 2 games played, but saw both sides suffer similar fates; two defeats in their opening games, one goal scored and three goals conceded.
Here we will provide a tactical analysis of Inter Miami, the franchise with eyes on it from all over the world. With former Manchester United midfielder David Beckham as current co-owner and president, it is hard to stay out of the spotlight. Expectations were high going into the season, with many saying that reaching the playoffs was a must for the side.
Inter Miami’s first game came against LAFC, setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Experienced GK Robles can be relied upon, CB’s Figal and Torres are expected to form a formidable partnership at the back and their full-backs include Jamaican International Powell. This is, on paper, a strong defensive unit protecting the goal. In front of them, Ulloa and Trapp have plenty of MLS experience between them. The players further forward are those with a little less predictability. Lewis Morgan struggled at Celtic and time will tell if his good form at St Mirren will translate to the MLS, as well as whether he can regain it. On the other side, Pellegrini is a young, exciting wide player with limited first-team experience. Pizzaro will be expected to provide quality on the ball and unlock defences with his passing ability, hoping to supply striker Robbie Robinson, picked 1st in the MLS SuperDraft, with plenty of opportunities.
LAFC started in a 4-3-3 formation and coming off of league-record points earned (72) in 2019, proved to be a very tough inaugural fixture. The game finished 1-0 to LAFC with Mexican international and former Arsenal man Carlos Vela scoring the decisive goal just before half time with a stunning chip from outside the area.
The analysis of the game showed LAFC saw more of the possession with 58%, more attempts on target (9 to IM’s 6) and more blocked shots (9 to IM’s 5).
The first 20 minutes of this game started quickly with Inter Miami keen to play very directly, releasing the forwards as soon as possible when winning the ball. Often coming from the defence, a long ball over the top of the LAFC defence for Robinson to chase, or challenge for in the air, this tactic did not work to great effect with Inter Miami’s goalkeeper and back 4 turning over possession 12 times. The ball often bypassed the midfield completely and you could see Pizzaro especially getting frustrated at the lack of possession and the sheer amount of times the ball was hit long. This was often due to the fact that there were limited options available to defenders into the midfield. Below shows Figal who has received a pass from Sweat, the left-back. He holds onto the ball for 7 seconds before an LAFC forward slowly starts to close him down. There is no movement ahead of Figal to use with Ulloa high and Trapp as the deepest outfield player at that time. Trapp was slow to react and should have been looking to push up into the central zone where there is a large amount of space to receive and look to combine with the other midfield and forward players. The actual pass is hit long and possession is returned to LAFC.
In the 27th minute, Sweat intercepted a ball on the edge of the box and charged forward to counter-attack. This time they kept possession but the movement off the ball was poor and Sweat carried the ball higher and higher without being able to find a teammate with a pass and eventually not knowing where to go and they lost possession again. Robinson’s movement was too straight and is covered by the defender and the left sided centre-back, he needs to remain with the central CB but try to get right on his back out of view and draw him away from Sweat, or run across the front of the CB and use his body to protect the ball and get a shot away. Pizarro is also too central throughout the run, his passing lane is blocked by the right sided centre-back, he needed to be wider to wither create a gap for Sweat to use of to be able to receive the pass.
Robbie Robinson received plenty of targets throughout the game but was unable to win the ball in the air where he won 43% of seven aerial challenges. He was unable to hold up the ball effectively, losing the ball 13 times and having one dribble which was unsuccessful. He showed he is capable of holding up the ball and linking with teammates on 38 minutes. Some combination play between the attack ended with a loose final ball but showed some promise. From a long pass from Robles, Robinson runs onto the ball and shields it well from the centre back looking to close him down. As the LAFC defence look to outnumber him, he has the awareness to see Lewis Morgan’s movement and makes space for him by delaying the pass to leave the most space for Morgan. From this, he turns quickly and looks to attack the box looking for the ball.
Towards the end of the first half and during the second, Inter Miami seemed better at keeping the ball and building an attack. The second half started much better than the first in terms of in possession; Pizzaro starting the attack again feeding Lewis Morgan to run at the full-back, he carries the ball at a speed and is able to make room for a good delivery into the box. Unfortunately, Robinson does not compete for the cross; he manages to get onto the ball after hitting the defender who had his back to it and force a corner but should have been timing his run better to attack the cross. The attack also started from Trapp and Ulloa winning the ball when closer together, limiting the space for the LAFC attackers.
Pizarro had a chance in 53rd minute stretching for a cross into the box and prodding the ball just wide, this was the last real chance at goal for Inter Miami in the match and were unable to break down an organised LAFC defence. From then on the LAFC defence dropped deep and got men behind the ball to limit the options in the final third. Inter Miami moved the ball around in the middle third from side to side but the LAFC defence was well organised. As we see below, the defence is limiting space for the front 3 of Inter Miami, and the 3 CM’s for LAFC are blocking passing lanes through and putting the player in possession under pressure. They are forced to play backwards and restart the attack.
Out of Possession:
As the game started, Inter Miami tried to press very high from the front and put LAFC under pressure. They wanted to rush LAFC into mistakes but ultimately this often saw them chasing the ball too much and leaving space in areas of the pitch. Below Inter Miami are trying to put pressure from a throw to LAFC, they are closely marking and all the midfield and attack are in the LAFC half. The LAFC midfielder drops 2 steps and receives the throw and volleys first time over the midfield and LAFC quickly attack with Rodriguez dropping in front of the defence to collect and spread wide to Carlos Vela who is 1v1 with Sweat.
After 4 minutes, LAFC were attacking down Inter Miami’s left side, Figal came across to support Sweat who had been caught high and was chasing back to Vela. Ulloa also came across to try and outnumber him and win back the ball. They were all too far off of Vela who was able to cross with ease and found Rossi for a free header in the 6-yard box having made a simple run in between Torres and Powell who were too far apart. Powell needed to come more central when Figal went out wide but was caught too far out.
When playing a 4-2-3-1 it is important that the 2 central midfielders work well together and against a strong side, they should not leave larger gaps between them. This happened far too often, and despite the hard work of both, they allowed passing lanes and routes for LAFC players to run with the ball through at the defence.
LAFC would try to draw Inter Miami out with possession in their own defensive third. Inter Miami would keep inching forwards, looking for pressing triggers and get higher and higher. This would leave gaps between the midfield and defence that LAFC would exploit. In the 62/63 minute LAFC try this twice with long passes from Vermeer in goal. The first is too high and Torres is able to deal with it, but possession is immediately returned to LAFC who do the same and this time the pass is better into Vela who is receiving the ball with Figal backing away and Torres beginning to close him down.
Once the game settled Inter Miami showed they have players who are capable of keeping possession and looking to create chances. It is evident that they have not had much time together as a team and were playing one of the top teams in the MLS, so should take a lot of positives from the game. Pizarro will bring quality and calmness to their attack in possession and they have good attacking wide players. Robbie Robinson works hard and will need to keep learning how to move off of the ball to create space for himself and others.
LAFC press high and have a lot of pace in attack which can worry defences, which may have led to the defence not coming out with the midfield and pockets of space appearing. Organisation around this will come with more time together as a group.
For the goal, it would be harsh to criticise the defenders too much, Vela superbly converted after showing skill and persistence to get into a shooting position and his finish was exquisite.
They can be very confident with Robles in goal who was in excellent form and kept them in the game a number of times. Working well with his CB’s they were able to show promise for future matches as a unit that should continue to improve with game time together.
Playing a strong side in LAFC for their first game, Inter Miami competed very well and showed that with more time to adapt to each other and build better understanding amongst the team they can improve a lot. Their combination play in the final 3rd was slightly flawed and needs work, but with a young centre forward and players adapting to each other, there was always a chance that this would need more time.
Game 2 – DC United v Inter Miami
For the second game v DC United, Inter Miami changed formation to a 3-4-3. Powell replaced by Nealis and Rodriguez replaced by Reyes. DC United are in a period of transition too with key player Wayne Rooney from last season leaving and a number of new additions brought in, including Peru international Edison Flores.
From the start of the game Inter Miami looked to attack with positive possession, they carried the ball through the thirds rather than bypassing the middle third with long passes. The first goal for the franchise came early on, scored by Pizarro. Robinson did well intercepting and carrying the ball forward and was aware of options around him, this will do his confidence a lot of good and continued to play well through the first half, receiving and protecting the ball well, before having to be replaced through injury. Below you can see the build-up play to the goal and how Robinson draws in the CB in a 3v2 overload in order to use Morgan who then crosses low for Pizarro to score. This showed better movement off the ball in transition and support for the man on the ball. The defenders are moving back towards goal which gives the control to the attacking 3 who use the ball well with speed.
In this system, Pizarro and Morgan played with a lot of freedom and kept finding different pockets of space to receive the ball and attack which made them difficult to track for the DC United defence. This helped improve the combination play and positive possession of the side looking to create chances and control the game. As you can see below, both Pizarro from the left and Morgan from the right looking to find pockets of space in front of the defence more centrally.
Pizarro continues to be the key player in the side, his composure on the ball and ability to dictate play will be vital to Inter Miami’s season. He finds space to receive the ball well and is able to receive in tight areas and create space for himself from them. This gives his teammates opportunities to push forward and create opportunities to build attacks at different speeds and ultimately was how they controlled the game so well during most of this match. Below we can see Pizarro recovering a headed pass from Sweat in left-back, with 2 defenders close to him. Pizarro is able to bring the ball under control under pressure and retain possession, he uses a wall pass with Sweat who has moved to be able to pass, move to space while the defenders put pressure on the ball, and receive down the line giving him the chance to build an attack.
Out of Possession:
There was a much improved organisation of the defence and midfield lines in this system that Alonso had clearly worked on. When DC United tried to break the lines and create opportunities going forward, Trapp and Ulloa were working well together forming a solid screen, and not leaving too large a gap between them and the defence. If they needed to push forward and look to press, one of the CB as able to step out, especially as DC United were playing with a lone striker against a back 3. This provided a solid defensive structure around the box and made chances difficult to create for DC United. Below we can see the DC United player receiving the ball just inside the Inter Miami half; Figal is the closest defender and goes to press and wins the ball while the rest of the defence drop into a back 4 shape.
DC United attempted to deliver crosses to threaten the backline, their right-back delivered diagonal crosses 4 times but Inter Miami dealt with this relatively well, only 50% accuracy from Canouse’s crosses, though at times seem to lose runners and could be punished in other games. As we see in the following image, the wing-back was caught the wrong side of the attacker and tripped while chasing back. 2 centre backs were marking the centre forward which ended up leaving an attacker in the box with a free header. The defence recovered well and blocked the cross but better positioning is needed in these situations.
The game changed dramatically as Torres was sent off. The side struggled to adapt at first and took time to understand their roles. This was very costly as DC United scored 2 quick goals, a penalty, after an error by Ulloa, and then from a rebounded free-kick. The second goal will disappoint Alonso more due to the reactions of his team to the rebound. As the free-kick hit the post 5 DC United players were following up for the rebound, whereas only 2 Inter Miami players reacted.
After the goals, Inter Miami once again started to control the game, limiting DC United to counter attacks that were dealt with well by defenders in 1v1 situations at times as they pushed on to try and find the equaliser. Reyes was a good addition to the side in this change of system, making 16 challenges and winning 81% of them. One area to work on will be aerial challenges, Figal made 5 aerial challenges and didn’t win any, and Reyes made 5 with a 60% win rate. This could be an area side target in future matches which needs to be worked on.
I feel the change of system suited the players much better than the previous 4-2-3-1. As this scout report has shown, the wing-backs continued to play at a high tempo all the way to the end of the match, Sweat was solid and Nealis looked very comfortable. With 3 CB’s one often stepped up into a DM role and Figal especially was keen to carry the ball out of defence and start attacks, this meant the midfield didn’t appear outnumbered by DC and Inter Miami controlled the game. The sending off changed the game and both goals from that came from errors and slow reactions. They will be disappointed with that period but regained composure and again started to control the game looking for an equaliser rather than just limiting the scoreline. Alonso was positive and confident in his decisions to encourage the team to continue to attack. You could see the improvements in cohesion and communication and going forward you can see these performances getting results.
To conclude this scout report we will look at the positives for the season ahead:
- Though Inter Miami started with two defeats, their performances have not been bad and have started against two accomplished sides. In the second game against DC United, the analysis showed that they can dominate a game and create chances.
- Pizarro will be able to show his quality throughout the season and those around him are brought into play well and show positive attitudes to their play.
- Alonso has them working hard for each other and with more work together will press high very effectively.
- Their performance in the 3-4-3 gave more attacking flexibility which seemed to benefit their attacking players; it will be interesting to see if this system and tactics are used when play returns.
- They should be able to continue to improve and gain results and be a playoff side.
Also, key areas of improvement needed:
- The team will try and play more crosses into the box as the defence seemed to have more trouble dealing with them rather than challenges on the floor.
- If Robbie Robinson struggles, the strikers behind him do not have a history of high scoring seasons in previous clubs. This could be looked at with the final Designated Player place available.