Massive Transformation Turns Inter Miami Into Juggernaut

What we saw against the Philadelphia Union was not the same Inter Miami squad we saw before the Leagues Cup began. Is this a new era for soccer in South Florida

Inter Miami's Leonardo Campana looks to take control of a ball against Philadelphia Union in the semifinals of the 2023 Leagues Cup.
Inter Miami's Leonardo Campana looks to take control of a ball against Philadelphia Union in the semifinals of the 2023 Leagues Cup. / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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For what it’s worth, I didn’t click on Inter Miami’s game with the Philadelphia Union until near the end of the second half.

And I was flabbergasted at what I saw.

Inter Miami was taking the best defensive team left in the tournament behind the woodshed… and it wasn’t even close.

Let’s get into it.

Inter Miami Proves It’s Not Just About Lionel Messi

Of course, adding Lionel Messi is a big deal… even transformative… but the match against Philadelphia proved this team has quickly grown beyond just Messi.

Yes, he grabs all the headlines (a quick scan of my NewsNow feed shows that), but it's not just Messi making plays on the field anymore.

This marked the second consecutive match where Messi wasn’t the show and the team was able to blow past an opponent without an overwhelming amount of his magic.

In the third minute, showed the brilliance that brought him to Inter Miami with a well-timed shot following a great feed from Sergii Kryvtsov.

Now, that’s not to say that Messi didn’t display his own brilliance just 17 minutes later with a goal that just embarrassed Union goalkeeper Andre Blake — who has been Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year for the last few seasons.

I mean, it wasn’t stylish, but it was pure filth from Messi:

Just a masterclass from the Inter Miami offense in that series.

And, in case you lost count, that’s nine goals in six matches for Messi, who is doing a solid job of shaming every defense he plays.

But, again, this win wasn’t necessarily all about Messi. In fact, this was a match where he touched the ball less than 50 times in 90 minutes.

By the time I started watching, I caught this gem from Jordi Alba. You have to give a ton of credit to Robert Taylor for a brilliant pass to find him in space:

Despite Philadelphia adding one later in the second half, Inter Miami kept their foot on the gas and continued to leave Blake shaking his head after homegrown product David Ruiz recognized the Union net-minder was off his line at the wrong angle and slotted home this piece of mastery:

In the end, one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer had no answer for an offense that was lackluster at best heading into the Leagues Cup.

That offense has come out the other side as one of the most potent in the league.

Quite the transformation of an entire team — not just one player — in a month.

Inter Miami’s Unsung Hero

I have been critical of Inter Miami’s defense — or, in most cases, lack thereof.

In my game notes for Philadelphia, I questioned how the Herons’ defense could stop the Union’s strong attack.

For all its woes, there is one player that has been a huge bright spot for Inter Miami’s defense: goalkeeper Drake Callender.

Keep this in mind: The Union had 13 shots on goal toward the end of the game — Callender was able to deflect just about every shot that came his way.

I know there was a goal from Alejandro Bedoya, but I would throw a little blame on Kryvtsov for standing right in front of Callender when the shot was made.

In case you were questioning Callender’s strength in goal, there’s this save in the 60th minute:

It’s been easy for everyone to mention Messi as the Man of the Match — he’s won that title in each of the last six matches.

But, we can’t overlook the heroics of Callender as he has been a wall in goal for Inter Miami and a huge bright spot on the defensive side of the ball.

For now, we can relish in the fact that the last-place team in the Eastern Conference will play for its first hardware in team history on Saturday in Nashville.

Oh, and in case you forgot, they have booked a place in next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup tournament for making it to the finals. A win, and they avoid the group stage and reach the knockout round.

So, celebrate La Familia!