Inter Miami defender Aimé Mabika heads the ball during Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Atlanta United.
The Atlanta United fans had barely settled into their seats before they found themselves on their feet again. Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez received a lead pass down the left side of the field before connecting with the trailing Luiz Araújo, who put a left-footed strike past Inter Miami’s diving Drake Callander to put Atlanta up just four minutes into the contest.
Atlanta’s early offensive surge proved to be all it needed in its 2-0 victory over Inter Miami on Father’s Day at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Atlanta’s quick production put a wrench in Miami’s game plan, a plan Miami defender Aimé Mabika said focused on the game’s early minutes.
“Coming in, we always say MLS road games are very tough,” Mabika said. “So we wanted to get through that first 10-15 minutes in a good way, and obviously we weren’t able to do that.”
Inter Miami’s early struggles continued as midfielder Jean Mota received a yellow card 25 minutes into the game. Four minutes later, Mota took down Marcelino Moreno on a breakaway to earn himself a second yellow card and ejection from the game, forcing Inter Miami to play man-down for the remaining 61 minutes. The ejection will also keep Mota out of Inter Miami’s home matchup next week against Minnesota United.
Despite being a man down, Inter Miami coach Phil Neville praised his team’s ability to continue fighting, but emphasized that the failure of the team to capitalize hurt the squad the most.
“I felt we had a couple of chances in the second half we should have scored with,” Neville said. “When you’re down a man, you’ve got to take the opportunities that come your way… They punished us with our mistakes and we didn’t punish them with theirs.”
Atlanta’s punishment of Miami came largely in terms of offensive production. Atlanta controlled possession for 60 percent of the game, and managed eight shots on goal.
Sunday afternoon’s match marked the end of a three week FIFA international break for Inter Miami. The squad entered the break on the rise, climbing from 13th to as high as seventh in the Eastern Conference. Miami went unbeaten in their four previous MLS league matches, including victories over Portland and New York Red Bulls.
However, first-half troubles changed that narrative for Miami, who put only three shots on goal against a strong Atlanta defense led by goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo, who stopped all three.
Three of Miami’s starting 11 spent the three-week break with their international sides. Robert Taylor (Finland), DeAndre Yedlin (USA) and Damion Lowe (Jamaica) all competed for their respective nations. Neville missed part of this week’s training sessions as he traveled to London to sort out his visa, further limiting the time the squad has had together.
“I felt we looked a little bit rusty,” Neville said. “We’ve got to make sure this week we get back to working hard and playing with the qualities we have.”
Atlanta added to their early lead as Araújo and Martínez switched roles. The 61st minute score came after a rebound pass from Araújo found the right leg of Martínez, who finished the shot into the top right of the net.
Inter Miami (5-7-3) fell to the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference following the loss, as Atlanta United (5-4-5) jumped Miami into ninth place with its victory. As the season moves toward the middle of the schedule, Neville looks for the next couple games to play a vital role in the team’s success this year.
“This is where two wins and you’re at the top of the table, and two losses and you’re at the bottom of the table,” Neville said. “This league is punishing and rewarding at the same time.”
Both Inter Miami and Atlanta will take the field next Saturday. Miami will head back home to face Minnesota, while Atlanta United travels to Canada to face Toronto.