Inter Miami won its first-ever major trophy Saturday, outlasting Nashville SC in an instant classic Leagues Cup championship match. We’ll break out our best and worst three on the pitch for the Herons.
With five saves in regulation time and two in an 11-round penalty shootout that decided the outcome – 1 (10) to 1 (9) – Herons’ goalkeeper Drake Callender easily won Man of the Match honors and the month-long tournament’s Best Goalkeeper award.
It's no surprise, then, that he leads Inter Heron’s first Three Up, Three Down player rankings. After each match, Matt Clark and Ken Garner will choose the Herons’ three best and three most disappointing players.
In the words of soccer transfer guru Fabrizio Romano, “Here we go!”
Drake Callender – A+
KEN GARNER: The 25-year-old keeper from California had perhaps his greatest performance after being quietly excellent throughout the seven-match tournament. He kept La Rosanegra in the opener against Cruz Azul with seven saves – four in the box and five diving – to set the stage for Messi’s dramatic, MLS-debut, match-winning, pinpoint-perfect free kick goal in stoppage time. The final against Nashville had the same feeling of building tension, and the same goal-saving stops from Callender. But, while he was very good throughout regulation – there wasn’t much to be done about the Fafa Picault shot that pinballed off Callender’s leg into the Herons’ net – Callender earned my nod in the shootout.
Randall Leal took Nashville’s second PK and tried to shoot straight through the middle, but Callender – who had dived to his right – managed to bat the ball away with his right knee to give Inter Miami an advantage. He made his penalty kick as the Herons’ 11th shooter, then stopped Nashville goalkeeper Elliot Panicco’s effort to win Club de Futbol Internacional Miami’s first hardware. Easy choice.
MATT CLARK: No question Callender has been the unsung hero for Inter Miami over the last seven matches. From keeping them in the match against Cruz Azul in the group-stage opener to his massive saves over the six matches that followed, Callender has been strong.
At a time when everyone (me included) has put big question marks on Inter Miami’s defense, Callender has been a huge bright spot.
I’d argue again his play on the field has been greatly overshadowed by the arrival of Lionel Messi. However, two things:
- Without Messi, Callender wouldn’t likely be in a position to show just how strong he is in goal, and…
2. Let’s remember that Callender has been with Inter Miami from the beginning after being drafted out of Cal (not that this point matters, but I thought it was worth bringing up).
Lionel Messi – A
KEN: Do I need to explain? He’s Lionel Messi, the greatest player of all time. He debuted for Inter Miami in the first Leagues Cup match and scored the Herons’ only goal in the tournament finale. Of course, it was a golazo: In the 23rd minute, Messi collected a deflection in the middle of the field just beyond the Nashville penalty box, worked around U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team defender Walker Zimmerman and, with his legendary left foot, blasted the ball between four defenders and just beyond Panicco’s reach into the top left corner of the net. The hero of Argentina’s third World Cup title scored 10 goals with an assist in seven Leagues Cup matches and earned the tournament’s best player and top scorer awards. His leadership, mentorship and sheer class on and off the field can’t be quantified, but the results shine. Deandre Yedlin handed Messi the captain’s armband when Messi subbed in for Benjamin Cremaschi against Cruz Azul; Saturday, when it was time for the captain to lift the Leagues Cup trophy, Messi beckoned Yedlin to join him and the pair lifted the cup together.
He didn’t have to do that, but he did. A small gesture with huge value.
MATT: I mean, what else can you say about Messi and his arrival in South Florida? He’s made Inter Miami a more complete team — and not just because he’s scoring goals at will, but because he’s elevated the play of others like Robert Taylor, Josef Martinez and Leonardo Campana. Even if Messi didn’t score against Nashville and someone else did, it would be hard to keep him off the list just because of his overall contribution to the squad. So, in short, Ken, no… there’s really nothing to say here.
Sergiy Kryvtsov – A
KEN: Kryvtsov, the veteran Ukrainian center back, looks slow; with graying hair, he looks older than his 32 years. But Saturday, especially in the first half, Sergiy was masterful. He made key blocks, clearances and interceptions and also helped distribute the ball from the back when Sergio Busquets was double- or triple-teamed.
MATT: Yeah, Kryvtsov really worried me going into this match. I wasn’t sure if he would have the legs to keep up with Hany Mukhtar and Sam Surridge on the attack. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It was the first time in Leagues Cup play I’ve seen a complete, solid effort from Kryvtsov. I really hope there’s more in him moving forward.
Diego Gomez – D+
KEN: OK, so this selection may be unfair. Gomez entered the match for Cremaschi in the 68th minute, so how could he be the Herons’ worst-rated player? Well, for starters, nobody who played for Inter Miami was truly terrible; it really was a well-played match by both sides. But Gomez, 20, a Paraguayan national team player, is a pacy, reckless player. He does have a nose for the ball but, in this tournament at least, he also had a penchant for errant passes, clumsy fouls and slow or poor decision-making. He’s my Low-Man of the Match.
" If Inter Miami is going to either go for the U.S. Open Cup or make the MLS Cup playoffs (or both), Gomez has to do better."- Matt Clark, Inter Heron
MATT: Not sure I would call it unfair. You knew Nashville was going to press the issue in the latter stages of the match. They didn’t want a penalty shootout any more than Inter Miami did. As a defender coming into a match like that, you have to understand what you are going to face and it looked, at times, that Gomez was lost. If Inter Miami is going to either go for the U.S. Open Cup or make the MLS Cup playoffs (or both), Gomez has to do better.
Josef Martinez & Kamal Miller – C
MATT: Let’s just say I’ve expected way more out of Martinez than I’ve seen over the last seven matches. Adding Messi on attack should elevate Martinez as he would have more space with defenses constantly focusing on Messi. However, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, it’s been Robert Taylor who has found the space and made defenses pay. As for Miller, I was impressed with him against Charlotte and Philadelphia, but felt he didn’t elevate his game to the level of a cup championship against Nashville.