Inter Miami take Leagues Cup “aspirations” into Philadelphia Union test | MLSSoccer.com
Still, the Herons are well aware that the reigning MLS Eastern Conference champions will likely pose their stiffest challenge yet, especially on their home turf, where they’ve lost just four league matches since the start of the 2020 season. And having lost four cup finals – most agonizingly, last year’s MLS Cup thriller – and two Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal series under head coach Jim Curtin, the Union are profoundly hungry to make a championship breakthrough.
“[Curtin] has been there for many years in Philadelphia; the team, beyond the change in players, they have their shapes, they have their ideas,” Miami manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino told reporters in Monday’s matchday-1 press conference.
“They were finalists in the league last year, they were almost champions, they ended up losing. But it’s a semifinal game [on Tuesday], so in semifinals, always the home-field advantage is strong. But we also have our aspirations to be able to advance to the finals.”
With their sturdy defensive outlook, rugged high press, attacking directness and proud paucity of celebrity star power, the Union are in many ways Miami’s antithesis. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Martino pledged to remain faithful to the ball-dominant, pass-and-move style he’s instilled since taking over at IMCF in late June.
“We’re thinking of a game that is going to be a little bit closed,” said the Argentine boss. “We see Philadelphia normally as a team that, at the beginning, play long balls and prepare to fight for the second ball. When they encounter teams that build from the back, they press. That said, we’re not going to give up from what we want to do. And we will see if their pressing is better than our game, or our game is better than their pressing.”
Curtin readily admitted his side will be second-best in terms of ball possession on Tuesday, and while paying rich tribute to Messi’s excellence, made clear that he sees Busquets’ distribution and tempo-setting as a vital cog in Miami’s abrupt renaissance.
“This is going to sound like the dumbest thing in the world, but everyone is talking about Messi and that’s natural and he’s been incredible. For an athlete to deliver over and over in every big-pressure moment again and again for his team has been amazing to watch,” said Philly’s coach. “But if you don’t take away Busquets and cut away the service – if you look at every goal they’ve scored this year, he either plays the pass that leads directly to the goal or, which is maybe more important, the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.
“But I’ve talked all week about if Messi receives the ball, it’s too late, we’re in trouble. We’ve messed up if he receives the ball at his feet. So can we now, in a smart way, try to cut out the weapons that get him the ball on the ground? And it starts with Busquets being that anchor of the team.”
Who’s in, who’s out?
Messi appeared to roll his ankle and show some discomfort during the section of Monday’s training session that was open to members of the media at IMCF’s training ground in Fort Lauderdale. But Martino tamped down the suggestion that it was an injury of note.
“I attended only part of the training session because I had a meeting afterwards and was finishing preparing for that, so I didn’t see exactly what happened,” said the coach. “But I imagine if it was something serious, everyone here would have been scandalized and made a big deal … I think nothing happened.”
The former Atlanta United boss said one of Miami’s other recently-arrived summer signings, attacker Facundo Farías, is in the traveling squad that jetted to Pennsylvania Monday afternoon and should be available for selection. Another U22 Initiative addition, highly-rated center back Tomás Avilés, is not yet ready to do so.
Meanwhile, Curtin revealed good news on that front, with influential playmaker Dániel Gazdag ready to play after a knee injury that proved less serious than feared and veteran leader Alejandro Bedoya fit enough to make Tuesday’s gameday squad as a bench option. The Union’s leader was cagier about key striker Julián Carranza, a former IMCF player, and his hamstring issue.
“Julian is another one that would do anything to not miss this one – obviously Miami, obviously a fellow countryman on the other team that’s pretty good at soccer,” said Curtin. “He picked up a Grade 1 strain, which is a hamstring strain that, look, news-wise that’s probably the best news we could have got.
“I’ll just say he still pushed on the side of things, and I haven’t heard back yet exactly how that went. But he wants to still participate tomorrow. Probably won’t be from the start, but if he’s around even to take a penalty kick or run around for a little bit of time without the risk of further injury, we’ll see where that stands.”