No Lionel Messi for U.S. Open Cup final wouldn't be ideal for Inter Miami, but Jordi Alba out could be key

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — Heading into Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final, Tata Martino needs to manage quite the injury situation at Inter Miami. Lionel Messi is a game-time decision for the match due to fatigue, while Jordi Alba is doubtful. Facing the Houston Dynamo, not having Messi is a potential disaster, but Alba not being available could help in trying to slow down the Dynamo’s attack. Martino spoke about needing to stop Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, whom he managed with the Mexico national team, but doing that is about more than just containing Herrera. The Herons also need to stop free runners down the wings from being outlets for the Dynamo.

While Alba brings a lot to Miami’s attack, he positions himself more as a winger than a defender, allowing attacking players to slip in behind him. Although Alba has only featured in 386 MLS minutes for the Herons, during that time, he only completes 1.63 tackles per 90 minutes played and registers 0.23 interceptions per 90. It makes sense when Alba is creating almost a chance per game from the wing, but he brings a very different flavor to the role than 19-year-old Noah Allen if the young American is to start for the Herons.

In Allen, Facundo Farias, Benjamin Cremaschi, Tomas Aviles, and Diego Gomez, young players have played a large role in Miami’s season, but stepping in to replace Alba in a final is quite a challenge. While Allen, who has played in 20 matches, can’t match Alba on the attacking end, he has scored a goal this season while being a valuable member of the defense. More of a stay-at-home left-back, Allen averages 2.52 tackles per 90 minutes and 1.23 interceptions while delivering a similar pass accuracy to Alba. Allen won’t deliver the same quality of crosses into the box or line-splitting passes as the Spaniard in the Open Cup final, but he also doesn’t need to.

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It’s easy to forget that Allen is a highly-rated youth player who has been involved with the United States at the youth international level, but he’ll be ready for this moment. Being more of a true defender positionally, his work rate can compensate not only for Miami’s center backs being on the slower end but also for Kamal Miller’s marauding runs up the pitch.

Finals like this are where players can make a name for themselves, and that’s where Allen can rise to the occasion. He missed a lot of time with an MCL injury during the preseason, but now that he’s back healthy, he can provide Martino with a lot of defensive cover against a dangerous Houston Dynamo side.

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