Analyzing Inter Miami: Defense leads way, toothless attack, and more

Three takeaways from Inter Miami's 0-0 draw with Orlando City

Defenders need cleansheets for confidence like attackers need goals, and Inter Miami’s finally got what they were looking for.

Inter Miami continued its good run of form by grabbing a valuable road point in a 0-0 draw with rivals Orlando City on Friday, and it was the South Florida side’s defense that led the way in the game at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The back line yielded just two shots on target thanks to stellar showings from the likes of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Christian Makoun, and goalkeeper Nick Marsman came up with some of his biggest saves in an Inter Miami jersey to deny the Lions on that pair of looks.

Those ingredients mixed together provided the recipe for the Herons’ second shutout of the year and first since early May, a long stretch that the team had internally been talking about ending in recent weeks.

“That is what the foundation was tonight: our defensive play,” said Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville. “The way that they all fought for each other I thought was fantastic and we keep adding a little layer of something else to our game. That gives me great confidence and is giving the team great confidence.”

Of course, one of the most prominent figures in this version of the Sunshine Clasico/El Clasico Del Sol was Marsman. The Dutch netminder may have only made a couple of stops en route to keeping Orlando City off the board, but both of them were big-time plays that are among his best thus far with Inter Miami.

Marsman first denied Tesho Akindele on a penalty after just 12 minutes, shrugging off insults from the stands, initially faking a move to the left before intuitively diving to the right to gobble up the striker’s poorly-hit effort.

“It is more of a gamble, I think, but I had the feeling he was going to shoot there,” said Marsman.

While stopping a spot kick is almost always notable given the high rate at which they are converted, Marsman’s second block was more impressive. He reacted superbly to a headed effort from Antonio Carlos in the 84th minute, moving from left-center of his goal over to the right before delivering a cat-like reflex to push away the ball with his lower paw.

Up until this game, Marsman had been known more at Inter Miami for his soft feet and rangy distribution. This draw against Orlando City, however, showed he is capable of making the type of game-changing saves that had largely allude him to this point in his nascent MLS career.

“Finally, (I was able to) get some good saves,” said Marsman.

The defenders — particularly the three centerbacks — deserve their share of the credit as well, however. Just look at some of their stats:

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez: 4 tackles, 1 interception, 2 clearances, 2 aerials won

Nicolas Figal: 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances, 2 blocked shots, 1 aerial won, 1 penalty given up

Christian Makoun: 2 tackles, 6 interceptions, 5 clearances, 2 aerials won

Those stats back up what the eyes could see. This game from Inter Miami was far from an attacking masterclass, but it was a solid defensive display that should give the team a boost in confidence after going so long without a cleansheet.

Attack puts forth toothless showing vs. a top opponent

The Inter Miami attack did the job in the last two games by scoring a combined six goals vs. teams in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but it could not find that type of level against a better opponent.

Inter Miami finished with the same amount of shots on target as Orlando City, but the Eastern Conference’s second-placed side outshot the Herons, 15-5. What’s more, none of Inter Miami’s chances really tested Lions goalkeeper Pedro Gallese aside from the shot Rodolfo Pizarro took from close range in the 22nd minute following a corner kick.

“I do feel that when you are playing against the top teams, that is one area where we are going to have to improve in terms of the real detail in the final third,” said Neville.

Part of the problem for Neville’s side was its initial tactical approach. The team tried going long to Pizarro and fellow wide attacker Robbie Robinson to avoid playing through the midfield, where Orlando City had a numerical advantage, but the two of them rarely won the ball. Skipping lines often resulted in the Lions winning the ball back with relative ease.

Things improved after halftime when Inter Miami started to play shorter in the build-up mostly down the left via Christian Makoun, Blaise Matuidi and Robinson, but the team still lacked penetration in the final third. Center forward Gonzalo Higuain was largely starved of service, and none of the wide options were overly threatening.

Getting back to the attacking level that was on display in recent matches will be vital for Inter Miami. The team is still four points short of a playoff spot, but will not win games if it does not score.

Initial outlook on Gibbs’ injury not a positive one

What a difference a few weeks make.

Whereas at the start of the month Kieran Gibbs was the man of the hour after scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 road draw vs. Orlando City, on Friday night he was left in pain and with plenty of questions about his immediate future. Gibbs suffered a groin injury late in the first half that forced him out of the match immediately, and the initial outlook does not sound too promising.

“We have got Kieran who is probably going to be a major doubt, so we are going to need our squad to be ready,” said Neville when talking about the overall availability of players over the next two games.

While Gibbs can certainly be replaced respectably at left wingback by Brek Shea — as was the case in the scoreless stalemate — the possible absence of the Englishman will only further test Inter Miami’s depth. The team will be without Pizarro and Robinson next week due to international call-ups, and their lack of availability combined with Gibbs potentially being out could leave Neville with three starting-caliber players to replace.