The scenario is becoming painfully familiar to Inter Miami fans – a player is shown two yellow cards, gets tossed, leaves the team a man down and is suspended for the next game.
Miami lost a key player to expulsions in each of the past two games, both lopsided home losses, 4-0 to the New York Red Bulls and 5-1 to Nashville SC.
Losing players for disciplinary reasons is especially costly at this point in the season, when the team had clawed its way into the playoff picture. The two-game slump followed an 11-game stretch during which Miami had seven wins, three ties and four consecutive shutouts.
Everything seemed to start unraveling when defender Nico Figal, perhaps distracted by transfer conversations with Mexican club Tigres, picked up two yellow cards in the first 37 minutes against the Red Bulls. The team was left undermanned for 53 minutes and it showed. Because that second yellow was his sixth of the season, he was suspended for the next two games under the league’s yellow card accumulation rule.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the team’s other veteran center back, also got a yellow card against New York, his 11th of the season, so, both he and Figal were unable to play against Nashville SC on Saturday. Their absence was notable, as the makeshift back line struggled.
Figal remains suspended for the road game against Atlanta United on Wednesday, and the team will also be without captain Gregore, who was slapped with a pair of yellows against Nashville, the second in the closing minutes of the game.
Although coach Phil Neville did not feel Gregore’s late yellow was warranted, the Brazilian midfielder will also miss the road game at Portland Oct. 3 due to yellow card accumulation.
Gregore and Gonzalez Pirez lead the league with 11 yellow cards apiece. As a team, Inter Miami has picked up 57 yellow cards through 25 games, which is tied for second in the Eastern Conference and ranks fifth overall in the league.
“Ultimately, we’ve got players missing games of football because of lack of discipline,” Neville said. “We can’t blame the referee for 11 yellow cards for Leandro, for Gregore, and obviously the sending off the other day was a sending off.
“One or two yellow cards you could probably moan about, complain about, but ultimately when you have (11) yellow cards and a couple of sendings off if you are one of those players then you need to look at yourself and think that you are costing your teammates at the moment in terms of your lack of discipline.”
Under MLS rules, a player with five yellow cards is suspended one game and pays a $250 fine. If the player gets eight cards, the fine goes to $500. The fine for 11 cards is $750, and if he reaches 13 cards, it is a $1,000 fine. There is a “Good Behavior Incentive,” which reduces the cards by one if a player goes five games without a card.
Before the Nashville game, Gregore was asked whether the team’s propensity for yellow cards was of concern.
He said: “We are a team that marks very aggressively. We never go into a play thinking of getting a yellow, but we also don’t go less aggressive not to get a yellow. The consequence of this aggression led us to not concede any goals for four games in a row, so I don’t see it as a problem, but it’s definitely something we need to manage to avoid getting so many yellows and not have players available.”
Midfielder Jay Chapman said there is a delicate balance between playing tenacious defense and letting emotions take over.
“Obviously, we have to be smart,” Chapman said. “We have some very great defenders on our team, Nico, Leandro, Gregore, and I think at times when we’re a little bit frustrated, chasing the game, it’s professional football. It’s easy to lose your head. I think for a good part of this season, especially when we went on the run, we were able to keep our heads, be smart collectively. We just dropped the ball a little bit these past two games.”
Losing Figal and Gregore for the Atlanta game will hurt, Chapman said, but it should not be an excuse to play poorly.
“Sometimes yellow cards are deserved, sometimes they’re not, and unfortunately, we’ve been racking them up. These guys we’re missing are a very big part of the team so we’re going to miss them. But everybody who steps on the field needs to be ready to do the job. This is an important time. It’s next man up. We have to find a way to get results. It doesn’t have to be pretty.”
Heading into this weekend, Miami is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, three points and two spots away from the playoff line with nine games remaining.