Tuesday , July 23 2024

Inter Miami beats the Columbus Crew 2-1 without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez

Ian Fray and Leo Campana each scored in the opening 22 minutes, and short-handed Inter Miami beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Wednesday night without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Inter Miami was without leading scorers Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez once again Wednesday, and three other regular starters also missed out on the midweek showdown with the reigning MLS Cup champions. None of that stopped Inter Miami from picking up another stirring victory that included a nice moment for a returning youngster.

A short-handed Inter Miami side used first-half goals from Ian Fray and Leonardo Campana to edge the Columbus Crew, 2-1, at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday night. The win was Inter Miami’s second in five days following the road triumph against the Philadelphia Union by the same score. The victory that came without Messi and Suarez — both of whom are away for the Copa America with Argentina and Uruguay, respectively — kept Inter Miami atop the Eastern Conference with a 12-5-3 record. “Like I told the players: We were playing a team that is better than us,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said. “If we did not match them in terms of the effort and the four [to] five ideas that we had to try and win the game, then we would not be able to come out on top.

“I think it was a very well-drilled game against the team that to me by far is the best in the league, that plays the best style in the league.” Moving his depleted squad out of the usual 4-3-3 formation and into a 5-4-1 look to solidify the defensive shape, Martino made three personnel changes to the starting group that helped stun the Union this past Saturday.

Fray, Noah Allen, and Yannick Bright all stepped into the lineup while Marcelo “Chelo” Weigandt (hamstring), Tomas Aviles and David Ruiz (both red-card suspension) were unavailable. Usual first-choice midfielder Diego Gomez also missed out due to his ongoing recovery from an ankle injury.

It was one of those fresh faces who helped Inter Miami turn the tables on the usual narrative of conceding early, with Fray reintroducing himself to fans everywhere by scoring a 10th-minute opener in his first start and appearance in more than a year. The Coconut Creek native authored his second career MLS goal with a routine header following a corner kick from the right from veteran Julian Gressel. Fray — who played at right back vs. the Crew instead of in his usual centerback spot — had not featured for the South Florida side since suffering his third ACL tear in as many years in the 2023 Leagues Cup match vs. Cruz Azul last July that marked the memorable Inter Miami debut of Messi.

“It is the best feeling ever. This is what I have been waiting for,” Fray said of his goal-scoring return. “Ever since I got injured the last time, I had no doubts that I was going to come back and show what I could do. I am only confident that that is going to continue.” “I am not going to lie to you, [this last year] was the toughest moment in my life,” Fray added. “But I try to keep in mind that people go through things all the time. I am in a really good spot here with the greatest player to ever play the game playing here. … That is what kept me motivated.” Fray, 21, also talked postgame about his goal celebration, which saw him point to his family in the stands before sticking an index finger to his right ear as if to say, ‘I cannot hear you.

“There were a lot of negative things being said after I got injured like, ‘You should retire, this and that,’” Fray said. “I am not going to act like it was all negative. I got a lot of positivity, too, but that was for that.” Inter Miami doubled the lead 11 minutes after Fray found the back of the net, with Campana finishing his own rebound from the doorstep after a well-executed high press forced the Crew into a turnover in a dangerous spot up the field. The Crew pulled one back five minutes before halftime, with Fort Lauderdale native and midfielder Aidan Morris whipping in a cross from the left that striker Juan Camilo ‘Cucho’ Hernandez stabbed home from in close after beating Noah Allen to the space.

Opting to change its playing style by defending and countering for much of the game en route to finishing with just 32 percent possession, Inter Miami had to gut it out for much of the rest of the way.

Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender came up with a crucial save late, alertly racing off his line to close down the angle on an open 79th-minute effort from Hernandez after a through ball slipped the Colombian through on goal.

“We played the toughest team in MLS, the reigning champion, and with its full complement of players,” said Sergio Busquets, who played out of position as the sweeper in the back five instead of occupying his usual place in midfield. “That made it much more difficult, but the team sacrificed a lot. Yes, we did not have a lot of possession nor did we cause as much damage with the ball as we wanted, but we incorporated other facets to our game today. “Ultimately, these three points are very important for us to stay atop the standings.” Inter Miami next visits Nashville SC on June 29 — the same day that Messi and Argentina’s national team are set to square off with Peru at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens in a Copa America group stage match.


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