Inter Miami are only two matches from either a Concacaf Champions Cup berth or their first trophy in club history but they’ll have to go through the Philadelphia Union for a place in the Leagues Cup final. The Union are one of the most successful clubs in Major League Soccer as of late, fresh off of participating in MLS Cup last season, but no team has proven that they can stop Lionel Messi who has powered Miami to this point in the tournament with eight goals and one assist. The top three teams in the competition, which included the winner of the third-place game, qualify for CCC.
With one of the best defenses in the league with 26 goals allowed across 23 matches, the Union is a team uniquely placed to try and stop Messi while also taking advantage of Miami’s defensive issues. While the Herons kept their second clean sheet in the Leagues Cup in their 4-0 victory over Charlotte FC in the quarterfinals, this is a team that has allowed six goals during their five matches in the tournament.
If former Miami striker Julian Carranza and league MVP candidate Daniel Gazdag are available, there’s a chance that the Union can put up quite a few goals even without new signing Tai Baribo available for the match due to paperwork issues. The issue is that Gazdag missed the Union’s victory with a knee injury and the Hungarian is critical to making the attack tick. But in Jose Martinez, the Union has a defensive midfielder who can shadow Messi and Sergio Busquets to make life hard for the Herons.
A Venezuelan international, Martinez has faced Messi in international play and that familiarity could prove to be critical. Most who have faced him were playing Messi for the first time or didn’t have the appropriate personnel to deal with Miami’s threats. The Union does and they’re able to counter Miami’s weaknesses out wide with Kai Wagner and Oliver Mbazio whipping in balls from wide positions.
The Union will win if…
The team is healthy and they keep their composure. In league play, the only teams that can beat the union are themselves or Los Angeles FC. An experienced team, the Union has players with international experience and defenders who can keep things in check. Damion Lowe, Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes are a stellar unit and can keep up with teams both using their pace on the ground or their prowess in the air. If they don’t make a chance, then they have one of the best keepers in the league in Andre Blake who is a walking highlight reel.
But at times that defense can have hiccups allowing the opposition clear chances on goal. If Miami are gifted chances, they’ll take them. If the injuries don’t turn in the Union’s favor, the attacking corps aren’t promising either. Gazdag is expected to be available but Carranza has a grade one hamstring strain and could be a game-time decision. If Carranza can’t go Mikael Uhre’s performances won’t inspire confidence and Chris Donovan hasn’t had many appearances. His stoppage-time winner against Queretaro could be a time to help push forward for the Drexel University grad but he’s no Carranza which will give Miami’s defense confidence.
Inter Miami will win if…
The Union can’t limit Messi’s touches. No team in the world can stop Messi from being Messi and it wouldn’t be wise for the Union to try and do the impossible. But there are 10 non-Messi players who the Union can try to contain. A major reason why Miami has been so successful is that Messi’s presence has opened space for Robert Taylor and if that happens, anyone on the team can hit a ball over the top that he can find for a clinical finish. Drake Callender is able to do just enough in net to make up for Miami’s defensive issues but if he’s under too much pressure, there’s only so much that the keeper can do.
If Tata Martino starts Leonardo Campana, that’s where Miami really could have their way in the match. More involved in games than Josef Martinez, Campana could make it so that the only way that the Union can defeat the Herons is by turning this game into a shootout in which the team with the most quality wins, and despite how talented the Union is, that team is Miami.
How to watch
- Date: Tuesday, Aug. 15 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
- Location: Subaru Park — Chester, Pennsylvania
- TV: None | Live stream: MLS Season Pass
In what will be a wild match, Miami will move onto the final due to heroics by Campana while the Union will have to settle for a place in the third-place match. Pick: Union 3, Inter Miami 3 (Miami advances 5-4 on penalties)