In a battle of 4-2-3-1 vs. 4-2-3-1, it was the Fire who came out on top against an ever-so-resilient Inter Miami. Although the Fire will always look to keep the ball when they can, they struggled to do so against Miami, as they held just a third of the total possession in the match.
However, the Fire certainly benefited from playing most of the game on the back foot. In possession, Miami would commit a lot of numbers forward as they looked for ways to break down the Fire’s defensive block. The Fire would absorb pressure well before winning the ball back to spring a counterattack.
MOTM Brian Gutiérrez was critical to the Fire’s ability to create chances on the counter. The 19-year-old would look to either turn with the ball at midfield to then drive at the defense, or he would run in behind the defense to get on the end of a through ball. By switching up his runs between coming short and getting in behind, Miami defenders and midfielders struggled to track his dynamic movement.
Speedy wingers, Chris Mueller and Maren Haile-Selassie were also crucial to the Fire going forward. With so much speed in the attack, Miami defenders struggled to match up defensively with the Fire’s front 4 players.
This was the case for the Fire’s first goal, where Mueller was able to score with a one-touch finish after his darting run into the box wasn’t picked up by DeAndre Yedlin.
The Fire’s main problem defensively was their inability to deal with Miami’s attacking fullbacks. Both of Miami’s goals came from wide areas, and Arnaud Souquet’s struggle to keep up with opposing fullback, Franco Negri, saw him substituted in the 63rd minute.
Negri was Miami’s man of the match as he registered a goal and an assist while playing left-back. The fullback completed 100% of his dribbles and caused the Fire all sorts of problems on the wing. Negri would continually make runs down the flank to create overload situations that the Fire struggled to deal with and forced the Fire to change personnel and shape (switched to a five-back in the 75th minute to try and see out the game).
The switch to a five-back when up a goal with 15 minutes left to play however did not pan out as the Fire would have hoped. The Fire conceded just a minute after bringing on the new signing, Alonso Aceves to play on the left side of the back five.
Both Miami fullbacks would play a role in the goal. Negri’s out-swinging cross found the head of Nicolás Stefanelli to equalize the game. Although right-back, DeAndre Yedlin never touched the ball on the play, his presence in the box caused confusion for the Fire defense. Kendall Burks and Aceves were left in no man’s land when the ball was floated into the box. The two Fire defenders did not know whether to mark Yedlin or Stefanelli and as a result, the Argentine forward was gifted a free header to tie the game.
With the game tied at 2-2, both teams pushed for an equalizer in the final minutes of the match. With players flying forward to try and find an answer, the Fire were the ones who capitalized. Tenacious play from substitute Javi Casas won the Fire the ball in a dangerous area of the pitch. With both Miami fullbacks caught high, Casas found Guti, who then drove at the two Miami center-backs with Kamara to his left and Mueller in the middle channel.
Seeing Guti driving centrally, Mueller made a run to the right wing to free the central area right outside the box. Not only did Mueller’s run create space for Guti, but also forced the left center-back to not commit to Guti, as Mueller would’ve been free if the center-back were to have tried to win the ball. With the Fire attacking 3-on-2 and with the two Miami defenders focused on Mueller and Guti, Kei Kamara was free down the left-hand side.
The dynamic play of Mueller and Guti allotted Kamara the space, and with all his experience, Kamara was always going to finish the chance to win the game.
For me, the most important takeaway from the game was that Guti is easily the Fire’s best number ten. He has so much influence on the game as the ten because he’s given license to operate centrally and come short but to also drift wide and run in behind. His movement is so dynamic and gives the Fire much-needed fluidity and offensive spark. Part of it is definitely due to age and used legs, but Guti also plays with so much more energy at the ten in comparison to Shaq. His press is so much more intense, and especially when the Fire press in a 4-4-2, both players in the front two need to be running hard to force the opposing team into making a mistake. With Shaqiri returning to health soon, I think Ezra should look to deploy the Swiss international in his natural position as an inverted winger because of how well the team is doing with Guti as the ten. It would also fit the 4-2-3-1 system well considering that most teams who utilize this shape play with two inverted wingers.