Analyzing Inter Miami: Grim outlook, Robinson ineffective up top, and more

Three takeaways from Inter Miami's 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers

The late call was controversial. The end result was disheartening. The outlook is grim.

Inter Miami missed out on yet another opportunity to make up ground in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference on Sunday, losing, 1-0, away to the Portland Timbers. The game was a mix of frustrating, disappointing, and infuriating given that it ended with the latest polemic call that did not go in the South Florida side’s favor, but the result left the team eight points shy of the red line with seven games to go and an overall sensation that the team’s postseason push is all but over.

Not only did Inter Miami have the misfortune of being on the less favored end of a refereeing decision in a game the team competed well in, but the Herons continued to show very little life in the attack. What’s more, the defense’s lone collective lapse in concentration led to the Timbers’ winner and overshadowed what was largely a strong display defensively. Then, there was the trio of injuries that look to deplete an already-thin squad.

“Ultimately we are probably going to have to win five or six out of our last seven games,” said Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville. “We have done that. We have been on a run like that. That is the run that we need to go on.”

Envisioning Inter Miami stringing together results during this final month of the campaign that are similar to the team’s best stretch of the year is very difficult to do, especially given the continued attacking woes. Sunday’s shutout loss marked the 12th time this year that the Herons have been held without a goal, and also left them with just one tally during this four-match skid.

There is also the case of player availability at the back. Christian Makoun is scheduled to join Venezuela’s national team for a trio of World Cup Qualifiers, meaning Neville’s usual starting left centerback will miss one Inter Miami game if not two.

Meanwhile, fellow central defender Nicolas Figal left this past weekend’s bout with what looked to be a non-contact injury, team captain Gregore exited over fears of a possible concussion, and Brek Shea was removed with an apparent knock as well.

Using all that adversity to try and galvanize the troops could be what helps the side pull off a late miracle, but the task is a massive one. Yes, seven games remain in the season and Inter Miami is still mathematically alive, but things are not looking at all good right now.

Robinson needs to be moved back to the wing

If Inter Miami wants to improve in the final third, ending the recent experiment of playing Robbie Robinson at striker and moving him back to the wing would help.

Robinson has started the last two games as the team’s No. 9, but has failed to convince in either. Opposing centerbacks have largely held him in check with their physicality, forcing him to often play in tight spaces and with his back to goal in the central channel rather than in the more comfortable areas out wide that allow him to have ample room to attack and be more forward-facing.

The wing has better suited the 22-year-old attacker’s strengths this campaign, but he has been moved back into the middle by Neville as of late in an effort to stretch the opposition’s back line and give forward partner Gonzalo Higuain the freedom to drop and create.

While the idea of using Higuain as more of a playmaker makes sense to a degree given the Argentine’s penchant for taking up withdrawn positions and his inability to really press, the tactic has not been all that effective. Robinson is not well-suited to play up top given his technical limitations and lack of a left foot, weaknesses that are not as apparent when he is deployed out on the flank and can more easily go at players on the dribble with his speed, aggressiveness, and explosiveness.

If Robinson could provide more in the final third as the center forward, using Higuain as a faux No. 10 would make more sense. As it stands, though, the deployment is not functioning. After all, it is no coincidence that Robinson has had just two shots and zero on target in the last two matches while largely being a non-factor up top.

Reverting to the tactic of having Robinson wide and Higuain at striker again would likely provide a boost to the Inter Miami attack. It is a better fit for Robinson and also gives the Herons more of a chance to have its most lethal scorer in the penalty area to finish things off, though it must be noted again that Higuain does not always occupy those spaces even when used as the No. 9.

Brek Shea stands out on both sides of the ball

There were a few bright spots for Inter Miami in this game, but none bigger than the performance of Shea.

The American started at left wingback in place of Kieran Gibbs, and delivered what might just have been Shea’s best showing this season. Sure, the 31-year-old defender may not have scored a late winner like he did against FC Cincinnati earlier in the campaign, but Shea made a big impact on both sides of the ball.

Not only did the versatile veteran prevent a pair of goal-scoring opportunities on each side of halftime with strong defending, but he was also involved in two of Inter Miami’s best scoring chances. Shea first helped set up a low Gonzalo Higuain shot in the second half by going on a committed run towards the end line to meet a Gregore cross, and later forced Steve Clark into a good low save after racing in behind to meet an Higuain pass.

Shea’s status for this weekend’s game is unknown right now, but if he is available then Neville should find a way to make room for him in the starting lineup. The player may not always overwhelm or play at this level, but he tends to do a serviceable job more often than not.