Let’s take a moment to remember that, when Major League Soccer paused for the Leagues Cup — which the remade Herons promptly won — Inter Miami was solidly in last place in the Eastern Conference and on an 11-match MLS winless streak. They looked more like contenders for the Wooden Spoon, the unofficial trophy attached to the league’s worst team, than a playoff spot.
Then along came those guys: the new coach, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, and a trio of his former Barcelona players: Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. BUT WAIT, there's more. While the Barcelona Alumni Association dominated headlines -- for good reason -- Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson was bringing in three Under-22 initiative players from South America: forward Facundo Farias and center back Tomas Aviles, both --like Martino and Messi -- from Argentina, and Diego Gomez, a midfielder from Paraguay.
The Herons haven't lost a match since Martino's first game in charge, a 3-0 mauling against St. Louis City (before Messi & Co. arrived).
All that to say this: September's La Rosanegra ain't June's La Rosanegra. They've been so much better that J. Sam Jones of MLSsoccer.com says winning it all just may be their “destiny.”
"It would be absurd, but, at this point, I wouldn’t blink if Miami finished with 50 points."- J. Sam Jones, MLSsoccer.com
The Herons (7-14-4) still sit in 14th place, but Sunday's statement road win against defending champion LAFC moved them to within eight points of ninth-place D.C. United and the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with nine matches left. None of the four teams between Inter Miami and D.C. United are in action this week.
Sporting Kansas City at Inter Miami
This will be tricky for Inter Miami. Peter Vermes' side just came from behind to beat Western Conference-leading St. Louis City 2-1 in the "Blue Hell" of Children's Mercy Park, with Mexican standout Alan Pulido netting both goals -- he has 12 overall and 11 since the beginning of June. Sporting is trying to mount its own late playoff push, and the win against spanking-new intrastate (sorta) rival St. Louis City moved them to within two points of FC Dallas, current holder of the West's final postseason berth. The Blue-on-Blue beat San Jose 3-0 on Aug. 26, giving them two straight wins since returning from the Leagues Cup break.
It won't help that NINE Miami players have been called to their national teams, more than any other team in MLS. The missing include: Edison Azcona (M, Dominican Republic); Drake Callender (GK, USA); Benjamin Cremaschi (M, USA); Diego Gomez (M, Paraguay); Sergii Kryvtsov (D, Ukraine); Josef Martinez (F, Venezuela); Lionel Messi (F, Argentina); David Ruiz (M, Honduras) and Robert Taylor (M, Finland).
Sporting Kansas City will be missing just one player, Marinos Tzionis, a forward from...Cyprus.
San Jose at D.C. United
Vamos, the Quakes! The Capitals walloped Chicago -- one of the teams Inter Miami needs to leapfrog to reach the postseason -- 4-0 Saturday, but had lost its two previous MLS outings. The Earthquakes have played four matches since the MLS season resumed, eking out a 1-0 win against Vancouver, losing to a suddenly in-form Sporting KC 3-0 and falling 3-2 to the Los Angeles Galaxy before tying Minnesota on Saturday.