It's a familiar sight to anyone who's ever watched tee-ball. The batter swings as hard as she can, tapping the ball toward the pitcher; her parents, coach and teammates yell at her to run while the pitcher, catcher, every infielder and one of the outfielders run toward the ball.
Inter Miami wasn't playing tee ball Saturday at DRV PNK Stadium. But the Herons' defense on the Chicago Fire's match-winning breakaway goal in stoppage time DID remind me of those youngsters gang-tackling the ball while the batter toddles down the line for a "hit."
La Rosanegra trailed 2-0 in the first half, but had battled back to even the match. Then, in the first minute of stoppage time, Chicago stole a pass in midfield and quickly booted the ball to midfielder Brian Gutierrez, who charged confidently toward the Miami box.
That's when the Herons had their tee-ball moment. Five Inter Miami players -- center backs Christopher McVey and Serhiy Krysvtov, winger Harry Neville, and midfielders Bryce Duke and David Ruiz -- focused on Gutierrez, swarming to meet his aggressive run.
In basketball, when a player steals the ball and drives hard to the goal, it often draws the scrambling defenders to him. With a teammate filling the wing, the result often is an uncontested highlight-reel dunk. Chicago veteran striker Kei Kamara, a late substitute, ran by a tired-looking Deandre Yedlin on the match's decisive play for the soccer equivalent. Gutierrez laid the ball off to his left and Kamara slammed the ball low and hard by the near-side post into the back of the net. Four minutes later, Chicago left the pitch with a 3-2 victory, its first of the season, and the Pink and Black had lost its third straight match after a 2-0 start.
What burning questions does the match leave with me? Just one, really: Why does MLS insist on playing when most leagues pause for the international break? Inter Miami, missing striker Leo Campana (calf) and defensive midfielder (and team captain) Gregore to injury, played without starting striker Josef Martinez and attacking midfielder Robert Taylor, called up by the Venezuelan and Finnish national teams, respectively. A team already struggling to replace Gregore's leadership and consistency ended up playing a makeshift lineup with Nico Stefanelli at striker and a patchwork quilt midfield that worked hard but lacked chemistry and, at times, communication.
The match ended with a bunch of kids on the field for Miami: Shanyder Borgelin (21), Benjamin Cremaschi (18), Neville (20), and Ruiz (19). Talented players all, thrown into this match by necessity. Here's hoping the experience builds character and teaches lessons.
Worth noting: Kamara, 38, became the first player to score for 10 different MLS clubs: Columbus Crew, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps, Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United, CF Montreal, and Chicago.