Stumbling Herons need to continue win streak against FC Cincinnati

Inter Miami (Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Inter Miami (Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports) /

It’s too early in a 34-game season to label the fourth match “must-win,” but Inter Miami desperately needs a victory Saturday in Cincinnati. The Herons have one point from three matches, thanks to an opening-day draw at DRV PNK Stadium. More alarmingly, Inter Miami has scored only one goal in the early going, Leonardo Campana’s strike in a 5 (!)-1 loss at Austin.

The Pink & Black are tied for 23rd in Major League Soccer’s Supporters’ Shield standings, with more points than only expansion side Charlotte and CF Montreal, which had been competing in CONCACAF Champions League until being eliminated by Cruz Azul on Wednesday.

Adding insult to injury, Inter Miami is dead last in’s Power Rankings. Defending MLS Cup champion NYCFC is first while FC Cincinnati, which has been the league’s worst team in each of its first three seasons, is 25th. OK, again, the season is young, less than 10 percent of matches have been played, but it is telling that soccer writers and editors from the league’s media platform rate Miami so poorly.

Inter Miami needs to bounce back against FC Cincinnati

A visit to TQL Stadium, FC Cincinnati’s home park, could give the Herons a badly needed boost before the international break. Miami never has lost to the Orange & Blue, sporting a 4-0 record against Cincinnati.

Miami beat Cincinnati 2-1 on MLS Decision Day in November 2020, earning a berth in the expanded playoffs, and the Herons won the first-ever match at TQL Stadium, 3-2, the following May. The teams met twice more in 2021, a 1-0 win in Cincinnati and a 5-1 blowout at DRV PNK Stadium (which set Miami’s record for goals scored in a match).

Inter Miami will need more than history on its side Saturday to continue its dominance of the perennial Wooden Spoon winners (a dubious honor “awarded” each year to the team with the league’s worst record.) Cincinnati beat Orlando City 2-1 in central Florida last week, snapping a 14-game losing streak that began last season.

First-year Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan, who helped build the Philadelphia Union into contenders, has the Orange & Blue playing exciting soccer. Striker Brandon Vazquez, who leads the league in shots (14), scored both goals for Cincinnati at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium, and midfielder Luciano Acosta, a former DC United standout, is tied for the MLS lead with 12 key passes.

If the Herons have a strength, it is the center back partnership of newcomers Damian Lowe and Christopher McVey, who will be counted on to protect keeper Clement Diop, starting for injured Nick Marsman, last year’s regular.

Lowe, especially, has impressed, being named to the MLS Team of the Week as a reserve after the nil-nil draw against Chicago in the season- and home-opener. Lowe missed the Austin Massacre with a groin injury, but his experience and physical presence helped Miami arguably outplay Los Angeles FC at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday. LAFC’s first goal came after a defensive lapse by veteran Brek Shea, who compounded his error with a red-card foul shortly before the halftime whistle, forcing the Herons to play with 10 men in the second half.

Left back Kieran Gibbs, who missed the first three Miami contests with a hamstring injury, has trained with the first-team this week and is expected to be available Saturday. If he’s in game form, Gibbs will further frustrate Cincinnati’s attack and, hopefully, make the Pink & Black’s more dangerous.

Through three matches, the Herons have struggled to create chances and to finish the chances they do manage to create. Striker Gonzalo Higuain, the lone Designated Player and only viable scoring threat available to coach Phil Neville after an offseason roster purge, is dropping deeper to receive possession from the midfield and trying to create opportunities for Campana, Ariel Lassiter, and other attacking players. Right back Deandre Yedlin and midfielder Robert Taylor have looked dangerous at times, but the team so far has failed to develop any offensive cohesiveness.

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That will need to change if the Herons are to enjoy their Cincinnati visit Saturday and the week off for international duty that follows. Kickoff is scheduled for noon CST/1 p.m. Eastern.