Leandro Gonzalez Pirez on ball- Miami vs. Atlanta - Sept. 19, 2020
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Top Takeaways: Secret to Inter Miami's rise, enduring brilliance of Diego Valeri and more | Steve Zakuani

We saw an Inter Miami team that continues to improve defensively, another lackluster offensive showing by the Red Bulls and a strong contender for goal of the year.

Secret to Miami's rise

I like what Inter Miami are doing. After all the offseason hype and unrealistic rumors, some of it their own fault and some of it ours, I can finally see what they are trying to build. Firstly, it looks like they got the right coach in terms of building an expansion team the right way — because for an expansion to have any hope of a good first year, the man in the hot seat has to transmit confidence and belief to the group.

Alonso has been very clear about his championship aspirations and you can see that belief rubbing off on his players in recent weeks. To be clear, they won’t win the championship this year but nonetheless it’s great to hear a coach be so bold about why he is here.

After the win against Atlanta, they have lost just once in the last five games and that improvement is largely down to one thing — a massive turnaround on the defensive side of things. They conceded 11 goals in their first six games, but have only given up four in their last six while keeping two clean sheets. They had zero clean sheets in the first six games. Small sample size yes, but still very positive signs.

Playing away at Atlanta isn’t what it once was — trust me, I get it — but for Miami to limit the hosts to only three shots on goal despite them having nearly 60 percent possession, was further evidence of the solid defensive foundation they are now building.

Aside from improved performances from several players, the biggest reason for this defensive turnaround comes down to one word: consistency. I’m talking about consistency of lineup in being able to play the same back four for several games on the bounce in order to build chemistry. In the first five games of the season, they never named the same backline in back to back games, but in their last seven games, Ben Sweat, Jorge Figal, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Andres Reyes have started in front of Luis Robles.

There were some nervy moments against Atlanta, but overall I could see that the back four were all on the same page in terms of when to step and be aggressive and when to drop off and cover. They still don’t score enough goals — hopefully Gonzalo Higuain can change that, but whenever you are a good defensive team, you give yourself a chance to win any game you’re in.

How to fix RBNY's attack

It’s not hard to figure out why the New York Red Bulls have just one win in their last six games: they are not good enough in front of goal. As things stand, they are on track to score just 25 goals this year — that’s 28 less than last season and 37 less than they did in 2018, which even given the shortened regular season in 2020 is a massive decline. Scoreless in three of their last four games, they managed just two shots on goal against FC Cincinnati and were never a consistent attacking threat for 90 minutes.

How to fix this? First, it goes without saying that they need to get more from what they have. Kaku is far too good a player to register just one assist and two shots in the last five games. Daniel Royer, who has been a consistent double-digit goal scorer in this league also needs to find his best form for the Red Bulls offense to get going. Secondly, it would help if they settled on a formation that made the game plan predictable. I am a fan of being able to play in different ways, but too much experimenting has a detrimental effect.

Although the burden to perform should always fall on the players, they do need to be put in the position to succeed and that’s not happening right now. In the last three games, they’ve started in a 4-2-3-1, a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-1-2. Kaku has started as the solo attacking mid, in center mid and also as part of a three-man-midfield while Royer has started up top and also on the wing.

I’d like to see the Red Bulls settle on a formation and stop moving guys around to different positions every week because that will simplify the game for the players, making it easier to develop a rhythm. Unless RBNY sign a big-time forward who can come in and get it done on his own, they will need Royer and Kaku to get going otherwise I can see them missing the playoffs.

Quick Hits

Olimpico

Did he mean it? Was he shooting? Who cares! It was a glorious goal and will now be in the convo for goal of the year. The overhead kick, the mazy dribble and the Olimpico — those are the three goals you dream of scoring as a kid and while the first two are common, the Olimpico remains the most difficult one to pull off so hats off to Medunjanin for giving us the moment of the night.

Most impressive win

This was an easy choice, it had to be the Portland Timbers. For starters, they scored six goals away from home. But more importantly, it was a much-needed win — a statement win. The critics had been circling because the Timbers had won only once since MLS is Back. They put all doubts to rest and they did it in emphatic style. Valeri was fantastic, Yimmi Chara seems to be rounding into form, Ebobisse continues to impress and the win moves them up to 4th place ahead of the midweek showdown against the Sounders.

Most impressive player performance

In recent weeks there have been signs that Valeri is returning to his very best form. I don’t know that MLS has seen a better goal-scoring playmaker than the Timbers' number 10 and against San Jose he was at his mercurial best by scoring two goals, and being the catalyst behind an emphatic win for the Timbers.

Most embarrassing moment

I have one word for the Chicago Fire penalty fiasco: embarrassing. I cringe when I see players do that because it’s selfish and puts your teammates in an awkward spot. Firstly, you should already know who the penalty taker is before kick-off and secondly, if you’re going to argue for five minutes about why you should be the one taking it, you better not miss.


Former MLS star winger Steve Zakuani was a No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and he played for the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. He is currently a member of the Sounders broadcast team and has published a book "Rise Above" and a documentary "Unbreakable" surrounding his comeback from a serious injury which marked his playing days. He is also a coach at Bellevue High School and makes a difference in the lives of young athletes through his non-profit Kingdom Hope organization

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