A week after playing the coldest home game in team history, the Fire head south to say Bienvenido a Ft. Lauderdale to face Inter Miami CF in their fourth game of the season. The Fire hit the road still searching for their first win of the campaign and their first win in south Florida since June 7, 2000, when they notched a 2-1 victory over the Miami Fusion off a Josh Wolff brace. Meanwhile, Miami will look to keep their perfect record at DRV PNK Stadium this season (and remain undefeated against the Fire at home) despite coming into the game with a short bench as several players are out due to injury or international duty.
All time: 2-1-1, 6GF, 4GA, (7 pts out of 12)
Last Match: September 10, 2022 Chicago Fire 3-1 Inter Miami CF at SeatGeek Stadium
Inter Miami CF
It’s been a tale of two seasons for Inter Miami so far. They won their first two games – both at home – over Montréal and the Union – before dropping their next two on the road against NYCFC (a 1-0 loss from an own goal) and Toronto (by a score of 2-0). They very much looked lost last week against a Toronto team that’s still trying to find its own footing. Oddly, Miami – who try to play a possession-oriented brand of soccer – lost the possession battle in both of their victories and had more of the ball than both their opponents in both of their losses.
The Fire came back from a 1-0 deficit and had a two-goal lead for most of the second half, until disaster struck, giving up two late goals – not for the first time in recent memory and settling for a draw in the coldest home game of Fire history. Although the team was missing several key players (including both DPs) due to injury or suspension, the result is still a massive disappointment for a team that had otherwise played well throughout the match. As such, the Fire are now closing out the first month of the MLS season still looking for their first win.
Early trends are beginning to emerge as the MLS season concludes its first month. Miami – who many predicted to finish alongside the Fire at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, due in part to a hole in the roster that look suspiciously Lionel Messi-shaped – are outplaying expectations and there’s hope that if they fill out their attacking corps, they might match or beat their 6th place finish in the conference from last season. The Fire, meanwhile, have outplayed expectations and have precious little to show for it, with conceding goals in the last 10 minutes of games costing the team 3 points over the last two matches.
Both managers have probably had to put on their thinking caps over the past week, as injuries to key players – including one or both of Chicago’s DPs and Inter Miami’s captain Gregore – along with international call ups to players including Miami’s two best strikers in Josef Martínez and Robert Taylor, along with Chicago’s Miguel Navarro – have left their respective teams missing key starters.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Inter Miami CF
Injured: Gregore, Noah Allen, Ian Fray
Questionable: Leonardo Campana
On International Duty: Edison Azcona, Josef Martínez, Robert Taylor
Although Phil Neville has shown a willingness to be flexible with Inter Miami’s formations, so far this year he seems to be happiest with his team playing a 4-3-1-2 with two strikers up top, but he’ll likely play a 4-2-3-1 for this match, as strikers Josef Martínez and Robert Taylor have both been called up for international duty, and Leonardo Campana is likely unavailable due to injury (and Neville will not want to rush the return of his Young DP, especially to a starting spot). As such, he simply doesn’t have the players available to play a two-striker system without pulling up a player from elsewhere in his starting XI, thereby moving the problem around rather than solving it. Lassiter isn’t Neville’s only choice at the position, however – our opposition report has an overview of Neville’s different options at striker.
Given the number of players that he won’t have available, Neville will likely not want to tinker too much with his starting lineup, sticking with the 4-2-3-1 formation that the group is familiar with and keeping players like Steffenelli – who can play either as a striker or an attacking midfielder – in the #10 role – rather than experimenting with moving a large number of players to different positions.
Inter Miami CF have played very well in their own half of the field, conceding just 3 goals in their first 4 matches – all on the road. Starting GK Drake Callender has yet to find the ball in the back of his net at home, and he’s played well both home and away, but it is worth noting that the three times Miami have conceded so far this season, they were playing out of a 4-2-3-1. Neville likely figures it’s still his best option, even if it isn’t his preferred one. Miami will look to hold possession and generate chances through their talented midfield, particularly given the vacancies at striker.
Injured: Federico Navarro, Xherdan Shaqiri, Jairo Torres
On International Duty: Miguel Navarro
Ezra Hendrickson faces a conundrum: On one hand, the Fire have looked better playing with two strikers – but it’s also fair to say that the Fire have looked better with Kei Kamara on the field, (even though Przybylko scored a goal last week). On the other hand, playing a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2) leaves some of the Fire’s best talent on the bench, and the team doesn’t really have true wingbacks that you’d expect for that formation.
Although going back to the 5-3-2 wouldn’t be entirely surprising – and Hendrickson has had success playing players out of position in the past (last season, defender Jonathan Bornstein scored a goal coming on as a winger), he will likely stick with his traditional 4-2-3-1 this week: Shaqiri is likely still unavailable, and Gutiérrez, Mueller, and Haile-Selassie all put in strong performances against Cincinnati (and weren’t responsible for the late goals the Fire conceded). Kei Kamara will likely return to start at striker, well-rested off a one-match suspension. U22 signing Georgios Koutsias is yet to join the team and is currently on international duty with the Greek youth team.
Aceves is likely to get his first start in a Fire uniform on Saturday with Miguel Navarro out for international duty, and the rest of the back four should be unchanged from the last game. Pineda will likely return to the starting spot he temporarily ceded to Fabian Herbers alongside Giménez in the defensive midfield.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Prevail at striker: Kamara has not looked 38 years old so far, successfully getting in behind opposing back lines and providing an offensive element the Fire have sorely needed. Hopefully a week off has given him time to return to whatever fountain of youth he’s been visiting, giving the team an attacking dimension that Miami will likely lack given international callups.
- Continue good midfield play: The 4-2-3-1 formation lives or dies through the midfield. The Fire have talent and ability in this area, and if the Fire want to get a result it’s essential that they win individual and collective battles and maintain possession in the middle third of the pitch.
- Commit to defense: The team has managed to play well defensively when every player goes in and commits. After last week’s breakdown – where individual mistakes often combined and became team lapses – the team needs everyone on board and committed unless they want to start an ugly trend.
The Fire have never won in Miami and Miami haven’t lost this season at home, so it will be a tough one. The midfield is a concern, and the fullbacks could once again prove a weak point for the Fire, but the attacking midfield trio was clicking last time out and if they can put in a big shift again, the Fire will be able to put some goals in the back of the net.
Prediction: Fire 2-2 Inter Miami
“Even if they hit me on sight/Everything gon’ be alright/Everybody have a good night/We gon’ make it to the daylight”; The Fire are an incredibly unpredictable team, but only if you look at them through the lens of sports. They follow a similar narrative every season. And this weekend we’re going to get our first of many random moments where things somehow appear to be coming together. Fire give up a late lead, but Kamara bungles one in.
Prediction: Fire 3-2 Inter Miami
Inter Miami remain unimpressive and the general consensus around the Fire from pretty much everyone is that they’re due for a win. I’d expect Guti to have another great performance and get an assist to whatever striker the Fire throw out there.
Prediction: Fire 2-1 Inter Miami
The Fire have played better than their record and Miami have had some good performances but are still fundamentally a roster with real holes, and for once, the Fire are playing a team shorter on strikers than we are. That plus reversion to the mean suggests the Fire are due for a W in Ft. Lauderdale.
Prediction: Fire 2-1 Inter Miami
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, March 25, 2023, 6:30PM CT
Location: DRV PNK Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Forecast: 80’F expected at kickoff with 69% humidity and 45% cloud cover with winds SSE 14-23mph with little to no chance of precipitation.
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Radio: TUDN WRTO 1200AM (Spanish)