Perhaps inspired by the signing of high-profile Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami’s offense came to life on Saturday night and the expansion club earned its first road win -- 2-1 over Atlanta United.
Higuain, the record-breaking former Juventus and Real Madrid player, is awaiting his visa and under quarantine per MLS COVID-19 rules, so he did not make the trip. Robbie Robinson (ill) and Julian Carranza (ankle sprain) were left off the roster, so the only true forward on the Miami roster was Juan Agudelo.
He delivered in a hurry, putting Miami ahead 1-0 in the second minute with a close-range goal off a cross from Lewis Morgan.
“We came out flying to try to put pressure on them and try to get them scared and let them know we’re not playing around, we were there for three points,” Agudelo said. “The goal opened up things and all the boys just worked their butts off.”
The buildup to the opening goal started with a long ball from Brek Shea, the former U.S. national team player, who earned a spot in the starting lineup after he headed in a goal in the 2-1 loss to Orlando. Shea rose to the occasion again – literally.
Atlanta’s loosely-marked Jon Gallagher scored an equalizer in the fourth minute with a rocket of a shot from the left side, but Miami regained the lead seven minutes later on another header from the 6-foot-3 Shea. Rodolfo Pizarro collected the ball near the goal off a throw-in and flipped it up to Shea, who leaped above the crowd and directed the ball past Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Shea broke into a huge smile, pumped his fists, and that 11th-minute goal wound up being the game-winner.
After not scoring for two and a half years, the 30-year-old has now scored twice in two games.
“I’m just happy we got three points and we played really, really well,” Shea said. “It was fun and enjoyable being out there.”
Shea, a journeyman who has played for five MLS teams with a stint in England in between, injured his knee last summer and began this season training with Inter Miami’s USL team, Fort Lauderdale CF. He was brought up to the MLS team on June 25 and has been a strong addition to the left side of the attack.
“We are very happy with Brek’s performance,” said coach Diego Alonso. “He is helping us a lot. He joined us late and was coming off a long-term injury, but he is now finding the rhythm he needs to help the growth of this team.”
Midfielder Victor Ulloa scored an apparent third goal for Miami off a strong volley, but video replay showed he was just a hair offside and the goal was nullified.
Miami’s attack in the first half was organized and fluid, and resulted in 10 shots, four of them on frame.
Atlanta made things more difficult for Inter Miami in the second half, limiting them to four shots and one on goal. Atlanta also had a couple more scoring chances, but Miami goalkeeper Luis Robles made critical saves and Inter Miami hung on for the win.
It was the second time in three weeks that Inter Miami beat Atlanta by a 2-1 score. Miami’s record improved to 3-7-2, and with 11 points the team will move up from last place in the standings into a tie with Atlanta and D.C. United.
Defender Andres Reyes was slapped with a yellow card late in the 65th minute and it was costly. He will have to miss the next game Wednesday at home against the New York Red Bulls, due to yellow card accumulation. Nico Figal was also playing against Atlanta carrying a yellow, so Alonso sat Figal late to make sure he can play on Wednesday.
Shea and Morgan were pulled from the game in the 90th minute, replaced by Matias Pellegrini and Roman Torres to help preserve the victory in extra time.