Anthony Fontana scored in the first half and Ilsinho and Brendan Aaronson scored in the second to push the Union back into second place in the East. Kacper Przybylko assisted on two goals as the Union returned to their dynamic selves after a lackluster draw against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
Andre Blake wore the captain’s armband for the suspended Alejandro Bedoya as the Union looked to improve their attack from the 0-0 draw against Cincinnati in which they failed to register a shot on goal. With Bedoya out, Brenden Aaronson dropped into a deeper role and Anthony Fontana, the hero of the Union’s last home game, made his first start of the season in the number 10 role. Kai Wagner made his first start since going down with a calf injury in the D.C. United game on August 29, and Sergio Santos returned to the starting lineup after recovering from a hamstring injury. The Brazilian striker nearly scored a late winner against Cincinnati after coming off the bench.
For Inter Miami, Gonzalo Higuaín made his much anticipated MLS debut. The Argentina international striker joined the club last week from Juventus. Higuaín has played for Napoli, Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan, and Boca Juniors, scoring 306 goals in 640 league and cup appearances. Higuaín’s Juventus teammate, Blaise Matuidi, also started for Miami. A World Cup winner with France in 2018, Matuidi spent three seasons with Juventus following six with Paris St. Germain, where he played with Miami’s part-owner David Beckham in 2013. Higuaín and Matuidi were the biggest changes to the Miami side that faced the Union in the second match of the MLS is Back Tournament in which the Union won 2-1.
Rodolfo Pizarro also started for Miami. Pizarro, the lone goal scorer for Miami in that game, is the co-leader on the team with 4 goals and 3 assists. U.S. international Juan Agudelo started up top alongside Higuaín, and Andrés Reyes returned to the lineup at outside back. The young star from Atlético Nacional played with Colombia’s U-23s in CONMEBOL pre-Olympic qualifying prior to the Covid shutdown.
The game began with long balls over the top from the Union as they took advantage of Santos’ return on a slick surface. Inter Miami played more open than Cincinnati, and the Union were able to find plenty of space in the attacking third. The addition of Santos and Fontana exploding into gaps created disturbances for the Miami defense going forward, and with Aaronson pushing into the attack from a deeper position, the Union looked more dynamic than on Wednesday night.
An early Reyes giveaway led to Santos breaking free on a loose ball until he was chopped down by Reyes, who earned a yellow card which could have arguably been red. Jamiro Monteiro had the first good chance for the Union in the 9th minute when Fontana sent him free into the box, but Monteiro tried to cut the ball back from his left to his right, and Lewis Morgan got a piece of it before Luis Robles made a kick save.
Higuaín made his presence known throughout the first half and was a constant hassle for the Union center backs. His first chance came in the 13th minute when he received the ball at the top of the box, cut a Union defender, and struck the ball over the crossbar. He nearly scored his opener in spectacular fashion seven minutes later minute when his bicycle kick glanced off the far post after a curling cross from Morgan.
Anthony Fontana scored the first goal of the game in the 25th minute, making his case for more playing time in a crowded Union midfield. Przybylko received an entry ball at the top of the box off a José Martinez header and laid it off to Fontana, who dribbled around Ben Sweat and stuck it in the top corner on the near side. Fontana’s goal was his fourth of the season and third in two games at Subaru Park.
Throughout the rest of the first half, the two teams traded minor chances, but the Union headed into the break with the lead despite being outshot 8 to 4 and out-possessed by a slim margin.
The second half opened with another shot from Higuaín that was blocked within the first minute. Santos battled with Leandro González Pirez, who attempted to draw numerous fouls against the Union striker after Santos picked up a yellow card for a high challenge, but ten minutes in, Santos almost added a second for the Union when he beat a Miami defender on the left side inside the box, but Robles got down and made a strong save on his shot.
Andre Blake made a big save after a quick Miami restart in the 62nd minute. Jakob Glesnes went down following a foul on Martinez and Sweat broke free down the left side and beat Mbaizo. His shot was headed for the top corner until Blake pushed it over the bar.
The Union doubled their lead in the 69th minute when Ilsinho scored a tap-in following a beautiful combination that started with Aaronson down the right side. Aaronson carried the ball across the front of the box, found Santos out wide, and Santos slipped a through ball to Przybylko. With multiple Miami defenders converging, Przybylko slid the ball past Robles across the goal to Ilsinho, who slammed it home from close range.
Ilsinho was the creator minutes later when he broke free again after controlling a Robles header outside the box. Ilsinho’s pass across the box inspired more passing from a few Union players before Przybylko’s shot was headed off the line.
The game almost took an abrupt change shortly after when the referee called a handball against Przybylko in the box following a VAR review. But Higuaín missed his first MLS goal, sailing the penalty kick over the bar then started a shoving match with Wagner after the Union defender celebrated nearby.
The Union rode out the remainder of the match as Miami tried to pull a goal back, and Brenden Aaronson scored a late stoppage time goal to put the game away for good.
After the game, Union coach Jim Curtin addressed the differences in the way his team performed versus Wednesday night. “We talked about a response to the game in Cincinnati, which was very good defensively but was lacking in the attacking part of the field in our passing and our build up, and the players really stepped up.”
The Union also had a grass surface and more space compared to the narrow turf field at Nippert Stadium in a game Curtin referred to as Cincinnati organized fighting. “We connected our passes, did a better job of moving the ball, and our spacing was much better. Guys’ first touch was cleaner, their touch was forward rather than backward, and we played a little more direct in certain moments.”
Curtin also praised the play of Glesnes and McKenzie, who managed to limit Higuaín’s chances in the second half. “He’s a world-class striker. His movement in the box is dangerous. It felt scary at times, but I thought that all things considered our guys did a good job of limiting the amount of touches he had first and foremost, and with the top strikers, the number one thing is to try to deny service and you saw when Miami was able to put balls in the box just how dangerous he can be.”
The Union will have another strong test on Saturday night when they play Toronto FC in Hartford, Connecticut. Toronto handed Columbus its second loss of the season Sunday night, defeating the first place Crew 3-1.
PHI: Fontana 25’
PHI: Ilsinho 69’
PHI: Aaronson 90’+5
MIA: Reyes 5’
PHI: Santos 46’
Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, McKenzie, Wagner (Real 87’), Martinez, Monteiro, Aaronson , Fontana (Ilsinho 61’), Santos (Wooten 78’), Przybylko
Unused Subs: Bendik, Collin, Real, Oravec, Ngalina, de Vries
Inter Miami FC
Robles, Figal, Reyes (Nealis 68’), González Pirez, Sweat, Ulloa (Trapp 81’), Matuidi, Morgan, Pizarro, Agudelo (Robinson 45’), Higuaín
Unused Subs: McCarthy, Ambrose, De la Garza, Chapman, Pellegrini, Carranza