Major League Soccer

Inter Miami’s record-breaking attack has eased pressure on Tata Martino

Inter Miami’s record-breaking attack has eased pressure on Tata Martino

Inter Miami have scored 32 goals in 12 MLS games this season.Photograph: Cj Gunther/EPA

Riding a six-game unbeaten streak in MLS, leading the race for the Supporters’ Shield and with their star players featuring at the top of the goals and assists charts, all is well in the world of Inter Miami.

Yet little over a month ago, head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino was on the hot seat. A humiliating 4-0 defeat to New York Red Bulls in late March was followed by elimination from the Concacaf Champions Cup at the hands of Mexican side Monterrey in early April.

Former USMNT defender Taylor Twellman posted a damning statistic on X, comparing the Argentinian manager’s record in Miami to that of the man he replaced at Chase Stadium, Phil Neville.

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“What if I told you that Tata Martino has a lower win % in MLS than Phil Neville did at Inter Miami … would you believe me?!” Twellman wrote. “Neville finished his spell in south Florida with a win rate of just 38.9% while currently Martino’s is at 38.2%.”

Meanwhile, reports in Spain suggested Martino could be replaced by Xavi Hernández, with Miami making contact with the coach who, at the time, was due to leave his post at Barcelona this coming summer. Xavi has since agreed to stay on at the Camp Nou for another year.

After the hammering at the hands of the Red Bulls, there was an air of resignation to Martino’s comments to the media, as the 61-year-old accused his players of lacking commitment.

“There is not much to say, except that we were outmatched from start to finish,” Martino said. “When a team enters a game without the desire to win, without spirit, without competing, and the other side just wants to win the game, they are going to win it.”

The key mitigating factor in Miami’s underperformance was an injury crisis. Ahead of the team’s sixth league game of the season, nine members of Martino’s squad were listed as unavailable due to injury, more than any other team in the league. They drew 1-1 against New York City FC with an absentee list headlined by Lionel Messi, who missed a month with a hamstring strain.

Miami’s lopsided approach to roster construction – built around the acquisition of expensive superstars – means their squad is top-heavy in terms of talent and unable to absorb a spate of injuries, especially when their high-earning, big names are unavailable.

When, in early April, Messi returned, Miami’s fortunes reversed. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner couldn’t prevent the Champions Cup elimination: he clearly still lacked sharpness in the second-leg loss to Monterrey. But his league form has been absurd – the 36-year-old has scored seven goals and provided eight assists in five MLS games since his return, taking him to the top of the goals and assists charts – including a record five assists in a rout of the Red Bulls.

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Now that Miami are rolling, it’s evident why they hired Martino in the first place.

Just as the club co-owned by David Beckham has chased superstars on the pitch, Martino arrived last summer with a weighty resume and reputation to complement the players he oversees. His reputation was first built in South America. He won the Paraguayan Primera División four times in the early to mid-2000s, with Libertad and then Club Cerro Porteño. In charge of Paraguay between 2007 and 2011, he guided them to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup – the nation’s best-ever finish – and a Copa América final. He then took Newell’s Old Boys in his native Rosario to an Argentinian title.

He worked with Messi for a season at Barcelona and then again during a two-year stint at the helm of Argentina, reaching another two Copa América finals.

After two and a half years in charge of Mexico, Martino arrived at Inter Miami with proven MLS pedigree thanks to an MLS Cup triumph and an MLS Coach of the Year award with Atlanta United in 2018.

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His vast experience, array of achievements and personal history with Messi was reflected in the contract, reportedly worth $5m a year, he signed at Chase Stadium. And while Miami’s commitment of financial resources to players in midfield and attack – even full-back Jordi Alba is more of an asset going forward than defensively – has resulted in a porous backline, with 18 goals conceded in 12 MLS games so far this season, there is evidence of Martino’s coaching nous higher up the pitch.

Although his only trophy during his single season as Barcelona manager was a Super Cup, the Catalans were a fearsome attacking force under his charge, scoring 100 La Liga goals as they finished runners-up to Atlético Madrid. Martino’s Atlanta were the highest scorer in MLS in the 2018 regular season, too, with 70 goals.

With Messi and Luis Suárez leading the line, Miami are of course blessed with a level of attacking talent the envy of MLS. But the coordinated support of the team’s wingers and full-backs, the careful spacing of players moving forward in unison providing passing lanes for Messi, has been a hallmark of their forward play, a result of Martino’s work on the training pitch.

Miami have scored 32 goals in 12 MLS games, by far the highest tally in the league – only LA Galaxy and Phil Neville’s Portland Timbers have broken the 20 goal mark. With their Messi-less malaise now behind them, their ambition of winning multiple trophies this season is back in view and Martino’s position appears as assured as ever, proving player health is often intrinsic to coaching success.

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