USATSI_18051467

Despite spending two seasons together in MLS, Inter Miami and Minnesota United have never met on the field. For the first time in club history, the Loons will be traveling to south beach to take on the Herons this Saturday in a new battle of the birds. This trip to Florida finds both teams fighting to stay afloat, as each club is hovering just below the final playoff spots in their respective conferences. Will Miami’s stars finally begin to shine or will the Loons start firing first?

The Occasion: MLS Week 16; Game No. 16; Road Game No. 8

The Opponent: Inter Miami CF

Head-to-Head:

As previously mentioned, these two teams have never actually played each other in any official capacity. This game will set the tone for the head-to-head matchup.

Miami’s Run of Form: D-D-W-W-L

Week 11 – 2-2 D vs. DC United (Goals from Leonardo Campana and Damion Lowe)

Week 12 – 0-0 D at Philadelphia Union

Week 13 – 2-0 W vs. New York Red Bulls (Goals from Ariel Lassiter and Robert Taylor)

Week 14 – 2-1 W vs. Portland Timbers (Goals from Leonardo Campana and Robert Taylor)

Week 15 – 0-2 L at Atlanta United

Going into the international break, Miami was on a bit of a run. Despite a penalty loss to Orlando City in the US Open Cup, they come into this game against Minnesota United with just one loss in their last five league games.

USATSI_18565089

Last Season

Last season, Miami accumulated just 41 points. This was only good enough for 11th place in the Eastern Conference, surely not what owner David Beckham was hoping for from his shiny “new” team. Big-name signings Gonzalo Higuaín, Blaise Matuidi, and Rodolfo Pizarro all failed to live up to expectations, as the team missed out on the playoffs in their second MLS season. Although manager Phil Neville is still around, this team looks to be different than last year’s iteration in more ways than one.

That was then, this is now

Where once Miami relied on Gonzalo Higuaín finding his past form, they now look to Leonardo Campana. The 21-year-old Ecuadorian number nine has proven to be quite the target man for his new team, scoring seven goals in 15 games this season. Inter Miami acquired Campana on loan this year from Wolverhampton Wanderers of the Premier League.

Long-time Loons fans may recognize a familiar face in Miami’s backline. Jamaican international Damion Lowe has played in 13 of Miami’s games this year, proving to be their rock in the defensive line. Lowe spent the 2016 season with Minnesota United, on loan from the Seattle Sounders. At the time, Minnesota was still playing in the NASL. During his lone season with the team, he was nominated for NASL Young Player of the Year. This will be Lowe’s first game against his former team.

On the other side of the coin, Minnesota United captain Wil Trapp spent one season with Inter Miami following a trade from his boyhood club, the Columbus Crew. This would have been Trapp’s first game back in Miami since he joined the Loons before the 2021 season, but he will be out due to yellow card accumulation.

USATSI_18144243

The Attack

Up top, Miami has a new look this year. Leading man Leonardo Campana has brought a tireless work rate along with his goal contributions, leading to a team that is always threatening on the break. He represents Miami’s biggest threat by far, having scored nearly half of the team’s goals this season. While he is a threat in the box, Campana’s willingness to pressure the opposition and drop back to defend has set him apart and made him into one of the league’s most exciting strikers.

Other threats to look out for include Costa Rican international Ariel Lassiter and Robin Lod’s Finnish international teammate, Robert Taylor. They have accumulated five goal involvements between the two of them. Both players can produce threatening passages of play, but like the rest of the team, the back of the net has eluded them more often than not this season.

In fact, Miami is currently third worst in the league in goals-per-game, with just 15 goals in as many games. In comparison, the Loons are scoring an average of 1.07 goals each game. With two offenses that seem to be in a rut, this likely won’t be a high-scoring game without some defensive errors to help out a bit.

As far as depth goes on the Miami side, there are a few key names to look at in this relatively thin squad. Aston Villa loanee Indiana Vassilev can provide a much-needed spark from the bench if called upon, but his role as a sub may not last long. He made the most of his start against Atlanta United, producing more threatening attacks than any of his teammates on the night. Although he has failed to live up to expectations thus far, look for Gonzalo Higuaín to potentially get involved off the bench as well. If Miami can get him firing like he used to, he could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs again this year.

USATSI_9533545

The Defense

As I said, defensive errors may be the only way we see many goals in this game. Loons fans are in luck, as Miami averages 1.60 goals allowed per game. Unfortunately, the New England Revolution had a similar defensive record and were able to beat Minnesota United 2-1 in their last game. Nevertheless, a leaky defense means that chances will come up, someone simply needs to take advantage of them.

Aside from the aforementioned Damion Lowe, Miami’s backline has a few other notable names. For USMNT fans, DeAndre Yedlin will be a familiar face coming down the right side for Miami. The 28-year-old right-back was signed this season after terminating his contract with Galatasaray in the Turkish top flight. While he may not be as fast as he used to be, Yedlin still has plenty of speed to make him dangerous in the attacking fullback role.

On the left flank, we will likely see Christopher Mcvey. Mcvey has featured in all 15 of Miami’s league games this year, chipping in an assist and some decent defensive play. The final spot in the backline could be Ryan Sailor, but the team has utilized several different partners for Lowe.

Miami’s minus nine goal differential and lack of defensive organization doesn’t inspire much confidence, unless you’re a fan of the opposition.

USATSI_18442364

Final Thought

Only a clairvoyant could predict Inter Miami’s next move. Phil Neville has utilized five different formations this season. Most recently, he lined his team up in a 4-1-4-1 as they fell to Atlanta United. However, a first-half red card likely derailed Neville’s plans for the team, so we may see him roll the same lineup out against the Loons. If not, one could only guess what the Inter Miami manager will throw onto the field next.

These two teams have identical records and they seem to be at identical places in their season. Either they start picking up some wins, or they will be pressed to try something new. In the MLS, stringing a few wins together can drastically change a team’s fortunes; nothing is set in stone until the final matchday. Both teams will likely look at this as a winnable, crucial opportunity that has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the season. The stage is set for a high-stakes match, as both teams seek to reverse their fortunes and climb the table as they head into the latter half of the season.

MATCH INFO

Minnesota United FC v. Inter Miami CF

DRV PNK Stadium | Fort Lauderdale, FL

Saturday, June 25

7:00 pm CT (MLS LIVE on ESPN+, Bally Sports North, The CW - Twin Cities, 1500 ESPN)