Ho-hum, Inter Miami extends its unbeaten streak to four matches in a listless U.S. Open Cup display

Inter Miami midfielder David Ruiz protects the ball against a Charleston Battery defender in Tuesday’s 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win.
Inter Miami midfielder David Ruiz protects the ball against a Charleston Battery defender in Tuesday’s 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Chasing hardware ain’t for the faint of heart, especially a win-or-go-home competition like the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Over the course of a season, or even the home-and-away format used in some major tournaments, gives a club some margin for error.

Not so do-or-die matches like Tuesday’s 1-0 yawner at DRV PNK Stadium. As some Twitter wit so aptly reported the result, “Inter Miami didn’t win, it advanced by having one goal more than Charleston,”

It’s hard to get excited watching La Rosanegra field a side starting seven players who did NOT start in this weekend’s home win against Atlanta United. I get it, with three matches this week, Herons coach Phil Neville needed to rotate some players to rest them before Miami welcomes high-flying New England to South Florida on Saturday.

But, given MLS’ salary restrictions, most clubs’ talent level drops way off after the starting 11; it’s even more noticeable when a team’s roster has been decimated by injuries. Starting defensive midfielders Gregore and Jean Mota are out until at least September, occasional starter Rodolfo Pizarro missed the last couple of matches and likely won’t be back until June, and starting center back Serhiy Krivstov also was unavailable.

Robert Taylor is a talented attacking player, but inconsistent. Nick Marsman is a good backup keeper — he did keep a clean sheet against the Battery — second-year defender Ryan Sailor played key minutes in the Herons’ playoff run a year ago, and Harvey Neville and Victor Ulloa are serviceable.

Josef Martinez had a dream match off the bench this weekend with both goals in a 2-1 win against his old team, but “El Rey” was on the bench for a reason; except for 33 minutes Saturday, he’s been in the worst slump of his career. Christopher McVey, the club’s iron man and a consistent defensive presence a year ago, has seemed unsure of himself in 2023 and has seen his minutes reduced with the addition of young star Kamal Miller.

On the bright side, an unfortunate (for himself and Charleston) own-goal by Sebastian Palma in the 48th minute carried Miami to the Open Cup’s round of 16 for the second straight year. Survive and advance, right? The Herons will learn their next opponent at Thursday’s draw while preparing for a test against the Revolution, tied with FC Cincinnati atop the Eastern Conference with 24 points, twice Inter Miami’s total.

With nine teams in each conference advancing to the MLS Cup playoffs, Neville and the Herons will prioritize league play, and rightly so. Soccer is a beautiful game, but it’s also a business, and the playoffs guarantee a bigger return on investment than a U.S. Open Cup championship.

But wouldn’t it be fun to see the boys go for it?