Cruz Azul, Atlanta United and Orlando City couldn’t do it.
None of those three teams could provide any decent defending options against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami’s attack.
As the Herons advance in the Leagues Cup to face FC Dallas, the importance of Inter Miami giving more options than just Messi is heightened.
Let’s dive into it.
When Inter Miami Gives Options, Messi Gets Space
Orlando City found this out the hard way.
It wasn’t totally rested on inept defense, because Inter Miami could spread out the attack and utilize the wings effectively.
Using the wings on the attack forced Orlando City to spread out their defensive line, leaving Messi open on his goals against the Lions.
In his first goal of the match, Messi was sprung free as Orlando City’s defense packed the left side to defend against Robert Taylor.
Taylor did a solid job moving the ball from the wing to the area and drawing at least three Orlando City defenders to his position.
Messi did what Messi does… he found space behind the defense and maneuvered himself into a position where he was left one-on-one with the goalkeeper… a battle he will win just about every time.
In his second goal of the game, Messi again found space after Taylor and Josef Martinez drew defenders toward them.
Again, this left Messi in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he was able to finish the sequence with a goal.
Playing the Ball in Man-To-Man Only Helps Inter Miami
In both of the above cases, Orlando City played their defense on the ball and didn’t necessarily play the man.
In basketball terms, they were trying to play a zone defense but got packed in on playing the ball.
That left Messi’s zone open without any defender and allowed him the space he needed to score.
This is likely a folly we are going to see in future Leagues Cup matches as well as when the Major League Soccer season resumes later this month.
Defenses are going to try to clog passing lanes to deny Messi the outlet he needs to break free. The problem with that is it will likely leave him open in attack and give wing players for Inter Miami the ability to spot him in transition relatively easily.
I think we can expect the same thing with FC Dallas… as their manager said as much in his pre-match press conference:
"I think we can be often focused on the player. We tried to show the strengths and weaknesses of every player in us."- Nico Estevez, FC Dallas Manager
The problem with that approach means players on defense will be far to focused on pressuring either Messi himself of the ball anticipating a pass in his direction.
Now, what Inter Miami has shown is their ability to provide different scoring options… again, looking at you Taylor and Martinez.
The other downside is their focus on playing to the ball will only give other attacking players the ability to spot Messi in a preferred one-on-one matchup on defense which gives him an advantage every time.
I don’t think there is any reason for Inter Miami to change up its offensive tactics here. They need to keep trying to attack on the wings, bring defensive pressure to the wings and spring Messi free in the middle.
That is a recipe that is going to be fruitful just about every time.