Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Messi scores late equalizer, Sergio Busquets and replacement referee struggle: LA Galaxy 1, Inter Miami 1

The LA Galaxy were in control of the game for long stretches of Sunday night visit from Inter Miami, but a late sending off and a later goal from Lionel Messi resulted in a 1-1 draw. Miami’s depth in midfield was once again a concern, but all it took was a little bit of magic between Messi and Jordi Alba to rescue a result and avoid Miami’s first loss of the young season.

And that’s why Inter Miami is considered one of the favorites in MLS this season.

In the 92nd minute, Messi took over a Galaxy turnover in the middle of the field. He and Alba connected back and forth up the left side, with Alba’s final cutback finding Messi inside the box. The Argentine connected with the outside of his left foot, beating John McCarthy for his first MLS goal of 2024. 

The Galaxy didn’t kill off Inter Miami. With a player like Messi on the field, all it takes is one half-chance to change the outcome. 

It was a crucial goal to earn a road point just a few days after opening the season at home with a win over Real Salt Lake. After two games, Messi has been directly involved in all three Inter Miami goals, with one goal, one assist and one secondary assist.

Aside from Messi, this is what stood out to Jeff Rueter, Paul Tenorio and Felipe Cardenas. 

Galaxy exploit Busquets’ mobility

Throughout his iconic European career, Sergio Busquets mastered the art of doing the sport’s most mundane tasks with otherworldly precision and consistency. Although never among the sport’s marathon runners, he capably contained opponents in midfield by reading their next move before they even decided to execute it. You don’t need to be a sprinter when you can glide with total clairvoyance.

As his time with Barcelona neared its conclusion, however, it was clear that his informed glides couldn’t keep up with his increasingly-more-youthful rivals. It isn’t hot-take fodder to point out the difference in caliber between La Liga and MLS. Without forcing a power ranking, fbRef categorization of MLS as being alongside the first-divisions in Portugal, Holland and Brazil among the “Men’s Next 14 Competitions” makes for a closer comparison than a side-by-side with Spain. 

However, athleticism is famously requisite to keep stride in MLS — just ask another of the game’s Mensa candidates, Andrea Pirlo. Unfortunately, Busquets’ decreasing pace put Miami in a difficult spot within the first half-hour of Sunday’s game.

Unable to keep stride with Galaxy winger Joseph Paintsil in the 13th minute, Busquets desperately flailed an arm onto the Ghana international’s shoulder. Although it was far from a clattering challenge, it was enough for the penalty call to be upheld after a video review. Busquets’ blushes were spared when Drake Callendar stymied Riqui Puig’s spot kick, but he was shown yellow a mere eight minutes later when he once again was lagging behind an opposing mark and required a foul to slow their progress.

The risk of building a team around a core of the game’s elder statesmen is that eventually, the game’s transitional nature will force them into a footrace. Busquets still has his exceptional game-reading literacy, but at this stage of his career, asking him to tightly mark opponents or leaving him alone at the base of a three-man midfield is a recipe for disaster. 

It may require a further tactical tweak by Tata Martino to cater more to Busquets’ strengths. As of yet, however, it’s far too easy for opponents to navigate through the midfield as currently constructed.

— Jeff Rueter

Galaxy vs. Galacticos

Since David Beckham first joined the LA Galaxy in 2007, the Galaxy has been a landing spot for some of the biggest names in MLS, most recently and prominently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This year’s primary transfer window, however, proved to be a strategic pivot. The Galaxy spent around $20 million in transfer fee on two players, neither of whom was a recognizable “big-name” player. LA first inked 23-year-old Brazilian winger Gabriel Pec from Vasco de Gama for around $10 million. Then, they signed winger Joseph Painstil, 26, from Genk. 

The move toward younger, in-their-prime players clearly also had a stylistic goal. The Galaxy wanted out-and-out wingers who could stretch the field and run in behind teams. It was a stark contrast to the older, slower Inter Miami side on Sunday night. 

Paintsil was effective in providing verticality in both the first and second half, causing problems on Inter Miami’s left side. It was Paintsil’s pace that forced Busquets to pull the winger down in the box in the first half for a penalty, though Puig missed the spot kick. And Paintsil created other opportunities, as well. Pec started on the bench, but came on in the second half for the final 20 minutes. Paintsil moved to the left wing when Pec came on and was effective on that side, as well. He glided by Tomás Avilés to help set up the Galaxy’s goal, laying it off to Puig, whose shot forced a Callender save, while it was Pec on the right side providing the assist to Dejan Joveljić. 

In the end, Miami likely has no regrets about how it spent its money. On Sunday night, neither did the Galaxy.

— Paul Tenorio

Where does Redondo fit for Miami?

Messi saved Inter Miami on Sunday night but their lack of quickness was on full display against the Galaxy. Miami’s midfield, with Busquets at the center of it all, is not quick enough to counter press, neither is their backline. If they did recover possession quickly, Luis Suárez was too slow to lead their counterattacks. 

Inter Miami’s midfield will get a boost of youthful energy once new signing Federico Redondo is available to play, but who comes out of Miami’s starting XI? Martino will have a decision to make and it could come down to Julian Gressel and DeAndre Yedlin. 

Martino could sit Yedlin and push Gressel back to right fullback in Miami’s back four to keep his passing accuracy on the pitch. Redondo would then slot into Gressel’s midfield space to play as the second No. 8 along with Diego Gómez. Martino could also sit Gressel for Redondo and keep Yedlin and the back line intact. Keeping the faster Yedlin on the field gives Miami a better chance in 0ne-v-one matchups on the wing. But Gressel is the better wide player with the ball at his feet. 

Inter Miami has an aging squad and it was always going to be a problem for Martino. The Argentine manager can’t turn back the clock, but he can change his starting XI to cover some of their team’s obvious weaknesses.

— Felipe Cardenas

Replacement referee draws Messi’s ire 

As to be expected during a lockout, the replacement referees are coming under a great deal of scrutiny. Sunday’s center official, Gabriele Ciampi, certainly didn’t avoid the spotlight in the game. 

Early in the match, Ciampi seemed to want to take control of the game with some early foul calls, but he was too quick to the whistle on a Busquets giveaway, bailing the star midfielder out of a giveaway on top of his own box. Ciampi got a penalty kick right in the first half, whistling Busquets for pulling down Paintsil, but he also had to give out several yellow cards as players got frustrated with some of his decisions and went into the book for dissent. 

Ciampi, who works as a music composer and has previously officiated USL League One games, also pulled out a red card late in the second half. He gave Marco Delgado a second yellow for a tackle on Busquets, though replays seemed to show there was not much contact on the foul. Delgado’s first yellow card was for kicking the ball away, another debatable caution. After the final whistle, Messi went up to Ciampi to say a few words to him while wagging his finger at him. 

— Tenorio

Miami brings out the stars in LA

Messi’s first trip to Los Angeles this year brought the stars to Dignity Health Sports Park. Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham made the trip west to visit his former club and he was joined in the stands by actor (and long-time soccer fan) Ed Norton. USWNT stars Christen Press and Tobin Heath were on the field with tennis great Novak Djokovic before kickoff, and WNBA star Diana Taurasi was also in attendance. Swedish DJ Alesso performed at halftime and Kim Kardashian was also on hand as her son, Saint West, served as the mascot who got to walk out hand in hand with Messi.

(Top photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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