Inter Miami gained more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race following a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC on Sunday. It was a match in which the Herons were expected to struggle, given that Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba were absent due to fatigue, with the U.S. Open Cup scheduled for Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo. The 19-year-old, David Ruiz, scored Miami’s only goal, which was later canceled out by Duncan Maguire’s finish. However, with the teams around them struggling in the Eastern Conference, one goal proved to be all that the Herons needed on the road to move even closer to a playoff spot.
Playing their third match without Messi, Miami managed to create several chances against a tough Orlando City defense. Despite Leonardo Campana finding space, the Herons lacked explosiveness in their attacking play. Part of this can be attributed to rotation, as Facundo Farias also started on the bench due to squad rotation for the U.S. Open Cup. This has been a recurring issue for Miami in matches without Messi.
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The Argentine superstar has been the focal point of the attack, with Sergio Busquets serving as a safety valve when needed. Without either of them, Miami struggled to break down the opposition’s defense. Robert Taylor and Campana combined to create four chances, but the rest of the team managed only four chances throughout the match. Farias plays a key role as the creative force for the team, and if Messi’s injury turns out to be more than just fatigue, it could be a cause for concern for the Herons.
Between Farias and Campana, there is enough of an attacking force to push the team forward but margins are thin during the business end of the season.
Miami currently sit only five points behind New York City FC in ninth place, with five matches remaining in the season. They have the luxury of having two games in hand over most of the league due to rescheduled matches from their Leagues Cup triumph. As injuries pile up within the club, Martino’s tactics become increasingly crucial down the stretch.
Martino, a manager who has previously won the MLS Cup with Atlanta United, understands the demands of the MLS season, which is why the Herons are still in contention for the playoffs at this stage. While securing another trophy would boost their momentum in pursuit of ninth place, it’s clear that having Messi and Alba is what they are going to need to truly contend.