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Inter Miami versus Atlanta United match preview

Inter Miami players and coaches have done the math. They analyzed all the permutations and know they probably will have to win all three remaining games and get help from other teams to clinch a playoff spot.

But they remain undeterred. Until they are mathematically eliminated, they say they will fight on.

Coach Phil Neville said the locker room is “really bouncing” after back-to-back wins by a combined score of 8-1, and players are eager to keep the streak alive with a road victory against Atlanta United on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., My33, CW34, Inter Miami app).

Atlanta sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, hanging onto the last playoff spot with 43 points and a game in hand. Miami is in 10th place with 38 points, five points shy of the playoff line.

When they played in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 29, Atlanta won 1-0 on a 78th-minute penalty kick by Josef Martinez after a controversial hand ball call against Miami’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

“It’s an incredibly important game, do or die again for us, and looking at the league table, those teams on 43, 42 points are going to have to have a hell of a dip in the next few games for us to capitalize,” Neville said. “And, we’ll have to win all three games against three of the best teams in the country. So, that’s the task in front of us. But you never know in football. When you get momentum and you go on a run, anything can happen.”

After Atlanta, Miami returns home to face fifth-place New York City FC on Saturday at 1:30 and then plays its season finale on the road against first-place New England Revolution, which ran away with the East and secured the Supporters Shield for best regular-season record with three games to go.

Inter Miami is coming off a 5-1 home win over last-place FC Cincinnati and won the previous game 3-0 over second-to-last-place Toronto FC. The next three games likely won’t be as easy.

“It will be a totally different level than the last two games we played,” Neville said. “Those two probably came at just the right time for us to get some goals, some consistency, some confidence and belief and enjoyment.”

Prior to those two victories, Miami had been outscored 16-1 during a six-game losing skid.

Neville shook things up, started both Higuain brothers in a more attack-minded lineup, and it paid dividends. Gonzalo and Federico, who turned 37 on Monday, combined for three goals and five assists over two games.

El viejito [the little old man] can still play,” joked forward Julian Carranza, who scored his first goal of the season on Saturday. “He is one of the most technical players on our team and adds so much on and off the field.”

Lewis Morgan moved back to his natural winger position and scored. Rodolfo Pizarro stepped up and played perhaps his best game of the season against Cincinnati.

Asked whether he will go with the same system against Atlanta, Neville said it would depend on which players are available. With three games in seven days, he said his “conundrum” is keeping players fresh and deciding if Fede Higuain can start all three.

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi is suspended for yellow card accumulation. Forward Robbie Robinson missed Saturday’s game with a stomach bug and is doubtful. Center back Nico Figal did light training Monday for the first time since injuring his calf three weeks ago and is also doubtful.

“The decision will be driven totally by the players available,” he said. “If we have Figal, then that gives us an extra body we can put in the back. We played some of our best football when it was Leandro, Nico and Christian (Makoun) in back, but unfortunately, Nico’s been out for (three) weeks and it’s a big ask to have him to play on Astro turf against that team when he hasn’t done anything that physical.”

Atlanta’s quartet of Martinez, Marcelino Moreno, Ezequiel Barco and Luiz Araujo are among the most technical players Miami face all season. Miami’s defense was able to keep them at bay last time. This time, desperate to get more players forward to score, Neville said they will have to take risks.

“We will have to defend 1v1, 2v2, 3v3,” he said.

Offensively, the key will be not wasting scoring opportunities, as they have been prone to do much of the season. Miami and Cincinnati are tied for last place in the East with 33 goals.

“We’re going to get probably two or three chances in the game,” Neville said. “If we take those, we will win the game. If we don’t, we won’t. These matches have been very tight, like a game of chess. We have to make sure that when the big moment comes, we stick it in the back of the net.”

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Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, and has been the University of Miami basketball beat writer for 20 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.





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