Earlier today, I compared Inter Miami's situation to besieged cavalry trying to hold off the bad guys until reinforcements arrive. Looking at the Herons' three-game stretch beginning tonight with Columbus, I can't help but think of the Alamo.
A small band of Americans and Texans fought to the last man against an overwhelming Mexican force but, in the effort, laid the foundation for ultimate success. Remember the Alamo.
OK, so La Rosanegra are fighting for nothing as dramatic as a nation's freedom, but the Herons' playoff prospects are as bleak as the Alamo defenders' heading into the three-match stretch still to play before Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets come to reinforce the troops. Inter Miami is in last place in the Eastern Conference with just 16 points from 19 matches. It trails D.C. United, which currently holds the ninth and final playoff position, by 10 points, and it faces three matches against playoff contenders before its marquee Barcelona refugees ride over the horizon.
First, Miami welcomes the Eastern Conference's fourth-place Columbus Crew (34 points) to DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The Crew are unbeaten in seven matches (compared to Inter Miami's eight-match winless streak) and lead the league in scoring with 40 goals (Inter Miami has 18).
Lucas Zelaryan, a midfielder who was born in Argentina but represents the Armenian national team, leads the Crew attack with eight goals and seven assists. Colombian winger Cucho Hernandez has five goals and nine assists and American striker Christian Ramirez has seven goals and two assists. Aidan Morris, Yaw Yeboah each have three goals and four players have two each.
Compare that to the Inter Miami offense -- it seems cruel to call it our "attack": Josef Martinez, five goals and an assist; Leo Campana, three goals and an assist; Robert Taylor, two goals and two assists. Youngster Benjamin Cremaschi has three assists, but midfielder Jean Mota -- who hasn't played in Miami's last 10 league matches after going down with a knee injury -- leads the squad with four assists.
The Crew has allowed 27 goals in MLS play, but Inter Miami has too often lacked confidence and quality in the final third; the Herons need to be much better at creating the chances they do create to have any chance against Columbus.
How big is the challenge facing IMCF? A peek at the MLSsoccer.com website's player availability report paints a bleak picture: Out for Columbus? One player, defender Will Sands. Out for Inter Miami? Six players, all starters: Franco Negri, Jean Mota and Corentin Jean are out with damage to the ligaments in their knees, while Gregore suffered a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in the third match of the year. Additionally, defenders Kamal Miller (Canada) and DeAndre Yedlin (USA) are with their respective national teams. Ryan Sailor, another defender, is listed as questionable.
Including the three remaining B.M. (Before Messi) matches, Inter Miami has 15 league games to make up 10 points. As unlikely as it seems, it's theoretically possible that the Herons could slip into the playoffs. But Javier Morales' rag-tag, makeshift roster must take points from the coming three matches, at least four, I think, to keep hope alive.
Reinforcements are coming; new head coach Tata Martino is waiting in the wings for his work visa to be approved, Messi and Busquets will debut July 21 in a Nations League match against Cruz Azul, and rumors continue to make headlines about who else may be joining the team later this month.
But the battle is here, now. Remember the Alamo.