Defensive Woes Cost Miami Points, Lose 4-3

“Miami will go as far as their defense and Brian Sylvestre’s goalkeeping will take them”. Well those words came to fruition last night as Atlanta United 2 capitalized on every defensive mistake. Despite a beautiful effort by the men up front, namely Mohamed Thiaw, Romario Williams, Sebastian Velasquez, and Magic City Soccer’s man of the match Harrison Heath, the men in the back couldn’t get out of their own way. Miami FC’s potent attack could not keep up with the sinking ship that was the defense in the loss.

First Half

The blunder’s came early for Miami. In the 7th minute, Hassan Ndam could not clear the ball out of his own end giving Atlanta’s Amadou Diop a clear look at goal. Fortunately for Miami an early crisis was avoided as Diop’s effort sailed wide of the frame. Miami would find their footing around the ten-minute mark and begin enjoying a heavy spell of possession. Miami’s first chance at goal came in the 12th minute as Miguel Gonzalez blasted an effort just outside of the frame.

Seconds later Miguel Gonzalez would be the key man in a build-up coming from the right flank. Tomas Granitto would switch fields finding an unmarked Jonas Lobe unmarked outside of the penalty area. Gonzalez’ run forward would be greeted by a pass from Lobe. In the process of being closed down by two Atlanta defenders, Gonzalez pass would land at the feet of Thiaw. Thiaw wasted little time passing the ball into the back of the net giving Miami the early lead. 

In the 19th minute, another defensive blunder by the Miami backline would give Jackson Conway the ball inside Miami’s penalty area. Fortunately, Conway shanked a point blank effort into the upper deck of the empty Kennesaw State University stadium. Shortly after, Lobe would find himself in the Atlanta penalty area with a chance to double Miami’s lead. His effort narrowly missed the right post as the ball failed to bend back on frame. 

In the 40th minute, Atlanta would find their equalizer on yet another display of poor defending by Miami. Atlanta’s Jack Gurr had nowhere to go down the goal line towards Sylvestre’s left. Gurr’s desperation cross floated above a flat-footed Sylvestre and connected with the head of Diop on the back post. 

Second Half

The ESPN+ viewing audience was greeted with an exhilarating open to the second half. Miami wasted little time regaining the lead after the restart of play. In the 47th minute, Harrison Heath would dribble his way in toward’s the left side of the six-yard box. His pass evaded the Atlanta Defense and found unmarked Sebastian Velasquez whose one-timed effort gave the United goalkeeper little chance to make a save. 

In what felt like just mere seconds after, Atlanta would find their equalizer yet again. A low cross entered the penalty area and got past a sliding Brenton Griffiths. Ndam would make contact but mishit the clearance which landed at the feet of Atlanta’s Diop. Diop wasted little time putting his laces through the ball and blasting one to the back of the net to bring the game level at two. 

The defensive blunders would finally begin to sink Miami’s ship in the 67th minute. Miguel Gonzalez would find himself defending deep in Miami’s own end and commit what we have come to known as a forward’s challenge on Gurr. Gonzalez would be booked for the effort and Atlanta would go ahead on the ensuing free kick. Jackson Conway would evade his mark and find some room just above the penalty spot. His curling effort caught Sylvestre flat-footed but the real highlight came in the aftermath. 

Conway would remove his shirt during the celebration of Atlanta’s go-ahead goal. Conway was booked earlier in the match and was given his marching orders with a second yellow by the referee. Atlanta would be forced to defend the remaining twenty minutes, down a man. In the 81st minute, Miami’s chances would be severely hampered after Atlanta’s Amir Bashti railroaded Sebastian Velasquez from behind. The challenge would have Velasquez ankle pinned under him and laying on the ground writhing in pain. 

Atlanta would score their 4th goal of the contest on a counter-attack by Bashti. After sprinting down the left side of the pitch his first effort would be saved by the foot of Sylvestre. Bashti’s ensuing cross would find an unmarked David Mejia who calmly slotted the header into the net.

Miami would see a late spark of life as Harrison Heath found substitute striker Romario Williams. Williams made no mistake in his header past Atlanta’s keeper in the 96th minute. Unfortunately, the clock would run out on Miami’s comeback effort. 

The Road Ahead

Miami FC will have ample time to recover and reflect on Wednesday’s loss. Head Coach Nelson Vargas will undoubtedly look into his defensive pairing in the middle. Additionally, Mark Pais may have an opportunity in practice to claim the role of starting goalkeeper. Miami conceding seven goals in your first two USL matches could be understood as they have ping-ponged around the U.S. pyramid for years now. However, the way opponents are scoring those goals should leave a bad taste in the mouth of the squad and the staff. 

The road ahead does not get any easier as a home-and-away series is up next with USL juggernaut Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Rowdies lead group H with eight points in four matches at the time of writing. Tampa has only conceded four goals so far and Miami’s attack will need to find the key to unlocking the Rowdies defense. Miami must take more points away than Tampa in the two fixtures to calm the waters ahead. 


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