WASHINGTON – “Sometimes soccer is unjust, but in the end the reward will be there. You have to keep pushing. These are tests.”
Diego Alonso is not the sort of coach to serve up moral victories, nor do his Inter Miami players seem particularly interested in taking silver linings from their 0W-2L-0D start to life in MLS. But the fiery Uruguayan emphatically drove home his faith in his squad after their strange, and bitterly harsh, 2-1 loss to D.C. United at Audi Field in Week 2.
“I think we deserved more from the first two games. We lost this game because of mistakes and because of silly reasons. All we can do is to keep working,” said star playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro afterward.
“In five minutes you can lose the work done in 85 minutes.”
Expansion sides are historically known to encounter some of the most vicious misfortune this league has to offer and it’s hard to avoid a similar conclusion about this result. Miami started brightly via Pizarro’s historic early goal, flummoxing their hosts with an unexpected 3-4-3 formation and selective high pressing that gave D.C. fits as they tried to build out of the back.
Inter were the better team for long stretches of the match and appeared to have taken a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second half when lively Scottish winger Lewis Morgan’s deflected shot dribbled past Bill Hamid.
“In 10 minutes, in an unusual way,” said Alonso afterward, “the game turned on us.”
In one of the most dramatic turnabouts Video Review could possibly serve up, a VAR decision waved off a Miami goal and instead hit Inter defender Roman Torres with a straight red card for a handball in a DOGSO situation earlier in the same sequence.
Moments later D.C. were level at 1-1 after Yamil Asad converted a penalty kick, and two minutes after that United defender Frederic Brillant played unexpected match-winner thanks to a clinical strike after Edison Flores’ free kick clanged off the post.
“All it takes is a half-chance or small lapse and the game can turn just like that,” lamented Miami defender Ben Sweat. “Those three to five minutes were just unbelievable – I've never experienced something like that in my life, to go up 2-0, to get a goal called back, red card, penalty, second goal. So it was very frustrating.”
Noted Alonso pointedly: “I don’t usually speak about the referees … I understand that today they committed errors just like we do. So we have to support them and we have to work a lot harder so that even when they make mistakes, we're still better.”
Inter were handed a daunting start to their inaugural season, with an opening-day visit to Supporters’ Shield holders LAFC followed by this trip to chilly D.C. Despite coming away empty-handed, they seem able to separate their perception of overall progress from the painful sting of bad luck.
“We are a work in progress and as we continue to construct our lineup, there's just a lot of new things happening,” said veteran goalkeeper Luis Robles. “We have a new coach to MLS, we have a lot of new players to MLS. We have a completely new group, as a group, in the locker room.
“Maybe we don't necessarily have a clear-cut identity, but we have the right guys in place, whether it's in the front office, whether it's in the coaching staff, or in the locker room, to eventually carve out that identity.”
Fans and club alike can take pride from the spirit and commitment Miami have shown thus far, and Alonso’s tactical nous is already showing itself. Even after Torres’s ejection and D.C.’s resulting rally, the proactive visitors tilted the field in their favor and forced United to bunker in and sweat out the final stages despite their numerical advantage.
“When we had 11 players, I think the game plan turned out perfectly,” Alonso said. “We were better. We attacked the spaces really well and we dominated. And when we finished with 10 men we played with a four-man back line, but we kept playing with two forwards and three midfielders which still allowed us to get to the opponent's penalty area.”
A great deal of the chatter around Inter has revolved around who isn’t wearing their pink and black colors yet, with constant rumors and reports of big-name signings still to come. Few among their current group are thinking that way, however. When asked whether his roster still needs reinforcements, Alonso said simply, “I love my team,” maintaining that he’s “convinced we're going to achieve important things with this squad.”
Potential future arrivals aside, co-owner David Beckham and sporting director Paul McDonough seem to have constructed an ambitious group with high expectations for itself. Sweat framed next week’s home opener vs. the LA Galaxy as something close to a must-win – noting “we got to bring the heat” in front of what’s expected to be a packed house at their new venue in Fort Lauderdale – before stepping back to offer perspective on the project as a whole.
“Where we are right now, it is tremendous; what the club is doing, the coaching staff is doing, the togetherness of the team. Everyone's bought in,” said the left back. “I think there's a stigma with expansion teams, and maybe some expansion teams maybe live up to that, that averageness. And we're not going to settle for that. We're not going to make excuses. Diego and the coaching staff want to win, we want to win, we have a great group of guys. So we're going to go out and compete every game.”