It is amazing what a little maturity in the midfield can provide.
After an impressive debut by World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, expansion side Inter Miami attempt to secure their first three-match unbeaten streak in club history Wednesday night when they host Atlanta United.
Inter (1-6-2) clearly have made the most of their time following a three-and-out performance at MLS Is Back in July. They gave claimed five points from their four matches and played out back-to-back scoreless draws in the last two, first against Atlanta United on Sept. 1 and then versus fellow expansion side Nashville SC on Sunday.
The latter was Matuidi’s first time wearing Inter Miami colors, with the France international finally cleared to play following completion of self-quarantine regulations following his arrival from Juventus. Matuidi played 79 minutes, completing 90 percent of his 52 passes that included 31 in the opposing half, and he also registered two key passes and six possession wins.
“I was expecting probably closer to 60 minutes, but with coach we decided to keep pushing a bit further. I have a very good first impression of the league, this is definitely a league that requires a lot from us,” Matuidi told the team’s official website. “The players show a lot of effort and a lot of intensity. I will myself have to continue giving my 100% to help the team win, because that is ultimately the goal for any team.
“My role is very much like what I have been used to in my career, it is to help organize the team, push us forward, find the way to move us forward and set up players in attack, and help out pressing. Nothing has really changed from what I’ve been used to in my career which makes me really happy.”
The one thing that will change, though not as much in the short-term with Phase One of the MLS schedule is the grind of travel in the United States, though Juventus offered some of those similarities with its Champions League schedule. Still, the early positive returns from the 33-year-old Matuidi were readily apparent.
Inter’s biggest challenge is similar for most expansion sides – scoring goals. They have gone 311 minutes without scoring since Rodolfo Pizzaro bagged the eventual match-winner in a 3-2 victory over Orlando City SC on Aug. 22. Inter, though, has also not conceded 217 minutes since Anibal Godoy’s strike consigned them to a 1-0 defeat to Nashville SC on Aug. 30.
Atlanta United did not have those offensive issues in large part due to striker Josef Martinez, who had 88 goals across the team’s first three seasons in the MLS. But the Venezuela international is sidelined for the season through injury, and the Black Stripes (3-4-2) are in the midst of a rework under interim manager Stephen Glass.
Atlanta United has also recorded consecutive draws and coming off a 1-1 stalemate versus Orlando City on Saturday. Adam Jahn’s stoppage-time header nicked a point for Atlanta as Glass’ substitutions made a difference late. Jahn entered the contest in the 71st minute while Jake Mulraney, who provided the cross for Jahn’s header, was inserted in the 84th minute.
“You saw a real resolve in there and a determination not to get beat,” Glass said. “The group of players that were on the pitch at the end, they injected some energy and pace and in general in the second half, I think we deserved what we got.”
Glass has been trying to get his team to start better, which has been a season-long problem as Atlanta United have bagged only one first-half goal. That may be a challenge following the departure of Pity Martinez, but the second half of Saturday’s draw was one of the best 45-minute stretches the Five Stripes have played all season.