On Saturday night we saw Inter Miami record their second consecutive win with a good attacking display, attack was the big talking point in Vancouver-RSL, while Caden Clark’s gamewinner was the perfect way to cap his dream debut.
Inter Miami's attack was something special
In their 1-0 win against the Houston Dynamo, especially in the first half, Inter Miami’s attack looked nothing like a team that was missing one of their best players in Rodolfo Pizarro (international duty) and that is averaging just a goal a game.
There were patterns of play and ideas we haven’t seen so far this season — overloading their right hand side was a tactic they used to overwhelm Houston’s left side to great effect. And if it weren’t for some good last-ditch defending, some heroics from Dynamo keeper Marko Maric and a weather delay, Miami could have easily been up by a couple of goals after 30 minutes.
We’ll get to Gonzalo Higuain in a moment because he’s obviously made an impact, but another reason for this new dynamic look in attack is the form of winger Lewis Morgan (photo above). He has five goals this season and three of them have come in the last three games. But let’s be perfectly clear, he’s offering more than just goals.
In the first half Morgan did a brilliant job of making runs into the right channel and caused Houston left back Adam Lundqvist all kinds of problems. Once he received the ball, his distribution was good, he linked up well with Higuain and he was relentless in his attempts to try and make things happen at every opportunity. In this kind of form, he has the potential to be the perfect X-factor in this Inter Miami attack.
Some players just ooze class and that’s exactly what Higuain (photo below) showed again on Saturday evening. He was unlucky not to score — at times the game turned into a personal duel between him and Maric, with the goalkeeper being equal to everything Higuain threw his way. His link-up play is excellent, as is his sharpness in the box, where he is able to create space for a shot in the blink of an eye.
With that said, the most impressive thing I saw from Higuain today wasn’t his on-the-ball activity. It was his body language — always positive. He was quick to applaud encouragement to teammates who made simple mistakes that we’ve seen other mega stars chastise players for. He worked tirelessly off the ball as the first line of defense, especially as the game wore on and Houston pressed forward in search of an equalizer. He looks like the perfect signing not only for what he will bring on the pitch, but also for what he will do for morale and team spirit in the locker room.
Inter Miami are still on the outside looking in, but after winning consecutive games for the first time this season, Inter should have their eyes firmly set on a playoff spot. I believe that if they can keep Higuain, Pizarro and Morgan on the pitch together as much as possible, they will do enough to squeeze out the victories they’ll need to make the postseason a reality.
What to make of Moreno, Clark debuts
It was a tale of two debutants at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Atlanta United dropped a 1-0 result to the New York Red Bulls in a big Eastern Conference matchup.
Most eyes were on Marcelino Moreno going into the match and rightly so. He is the man tasked with helping to bring the excitement back to a club that has badly lost its way on and off the pitch. But it was the the other debutant, the one whose career is just starting, who stole the show with the game-winning goal off a very well-taken volley.
He's only 17, but Caden Clark played like a man who was making his 100th appearance, not his first. I loved that he didn’t just try and play it safe with little five-yard passes that went sideways or backwards and involved no risk. He was willing to try and make things happen. And even when he gave some balls away, he didn’t shy away from trying to make something happen on the very next play.
Of course, Clark is far from the finished product — he’ll need to build some muscle, play quicker at times and increase his passing accuracy — but to play with the kind of maturity and confidence he showed while the ink on his contract was barely dry, should fill Red Bulls fans with hope and excitement for what’s to come.
For his part, Moreno was very good in the first half. When you consider that he has yet to even train with his teammates, then his first outing becomes all the more impressive. Understandably, he slowed down in the second half before he was substituted, but he still gave some glimpses into the quality he can bring to this Atlanta team.
The biggest compliment I can pay Moreno after today’s game was that when he went to the bench in the second half, he took all of Atlanta’s creativity with him. With him on the pitch, there was a fluidity and freshness to the Atlanta attack that we haven’t seen in months. At times he drew a couple of defenders which created space for one of his teammates to exploit, and very often he made the right decision on the ball in terms of picking out the right passing option.
It’s too early to tell if he will be more like Miguel Almiron or Pity Martinez, but on first viewing here’s what I like: his first touch, his awareness of what’s around him, the fact that he didn’t try to make the special play or force things every time — something Pity was guilty of when things weren’t going his way. Moreno was willing to play simple when the game demanded it and I also loved that he was willing to work defensively as well.
With time and fitness he will only get better and while that may not be enough to help Atlanta do anything special this season — despite Moreno’s decent game they still didn’t have a shot on target — it bodes well for the future, especially if they surround him with quality.
More dangerous playoff team: 'Caps or RSL?
There’s not much separating the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake in the table and there wasn’t much between them on the pitch during their Saturday night matchup, which Vancouver came from behind to win 2-1.
With the inconsistent form of the teams above them, both could conceivably make the playoffs from the West and if that were to happen, I’d wager that the Whitecaps would fare better between the two. My thinking is based on one factor: I think the Fredy Montero-Lucas Cavallini partnership, while not completely firing on all cylinders yet, is better than anything Salt Lake are able to offer in attack.
Cavallini hasn’t lit up the stat sheet, but I’ve been impressed every time I’ve seen him play because even when things aren’t going his way, he still wants the ball and doesn’t hide or shy away from putting himself in situations where he can miss big chances — being willing to take and miss big shots is a skill in itself. And ever since Montero was inserted into the lineup alongside him, the Whitecaps have been attacking better. Fredy has a well-known ability to find the back of the net, but at this point in his career, he’s also very good at bringing his teammates into the game with through balls on the ground or over the top. This is something Cristian Dajome, who’s always looking to run in behind from a wide position, has benefited from.
When I look at the Whitecaps attack, I see a decent group of players that are still a couple of notches below their full potential as a collective. If and when they find their best level, they are capable of putting up a fight against the best teams in the West.
While Real Salt Lake’s offense isn’t necessarily worse than Vancouver’s — they’ve actually outscored the Whitecaps by one goal — I think it has hit its peak already. Their most dangerous attacking player outside of Albert Rusnak is Corey Baird and while he’s been good this season, the problem is that no one else has stepped up. They don’t get much from Sam Johnson, Douglas Martinez or Maikel Chang, and Giuseppe Rossi hasn’t played in over a month.
I feel that what RSL have shown so far this season is as good as they can give. They’re already tapping at their ceiling, while the Whitecaps definitely look like they have another gear in them. Salt Lake have only scored more than one goal once in their last seven outings and while they can still definitely make the playoffs, I seriously question if they’ll have enough firepower to trouble the likes of Seattle, Portland or Sporting KC once they get there.
Higuain leaves penalty kick taking to others
In MLS, the best attacking player usually takes all the set pieces even if he isn’t the best at taking set pieces.
I’ve always felt that some players use it as a way to pad their stats — goals and assists — that may trigger bonuses or big payouts. This is why I was very happy to see Higuain pass up the chance to take the penalty Miami were awarded in the second half against Houston (watch the PK above). On his debut against the Union, he took one and missed it. So on this occasion, he did what was best for the team and put his ego aside and allowed the red-hot Morgan to step up and slot the penalty home.
I can’t tell you how much an ego-less superstar does for team spirit. It gets everyone else to buy in and do all they can for the cause as well.
Clark's goal: Offside or not?
I have no problem with the referee's decision to let Clark’s goal stand (above).
Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan has every right to feel aggrieved because his vision may have well been impeded. In cases where a player in an offside position makes an active movement towards the ball causing the goalkeeper to hesitate, the flag should 100 percent go up, but this is not what happened here.
If you remove the Red Bulls player in front of Guzan, nothing changes. The ball still finds the bottom corner, Guzan still dives at the exact same time, in the exact same way and still gets nowhere near it. Based on that rationale — that Guzan saw the ball and reacted, and was in no way thrown off by the Red Bull attacker because no attempt to make a play was made — I felt the goal deserved to stand and Clark was able to celebrate his debut in style.
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.