Touchline Talk

Neville: “We’ve changed the way people look at Inter Miami”

WhatsApp Image 2022-10-17 at 11.53.50 PM

Touchline Talk presented by Al-Flex

Inter Miami CF’s season came to a close on Oct. 17, falling to New York City FC at Citi Field in Round One of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. Though the match was tightly contested, the reigning MLS Cup Champions New York City FC finally broke through and found the go-ahead goals. The result ends an impressive season for the Herons, who showed courage and tenacity throughout the year to secure its second trip to the MLS postseason in only its third year as a Club.

Head coach Phil Neville acknowledged that though the night’s result was disappointing after the valiant effort the team put forth this season, the experience of making it to the playoffs is invaluable to the young squad. 

“I think they know now what it takes to get into the playoffs,” Neville began. “But more importantly, they now know what it takes to perform in a playoff game. I think that’s the biggest thing now, the extra 20 percent that we need to improve on and add to this team for next season. They’ve had a great learning experience tonight, even though it hurts, even though we’re all emotional. We shared some really emotional moments in the locker room with Gonzalo [Higuaín], who is coming to the end of an incredible career. The way he feels is probably the way we all feel, in terms of emotions, being upset, the tears; we really felt that we had a chance. I think it’s a great learning experience for some of the players on that pitch to say in the offseason, ‘I need to work even harder than what I’ve been doing. I need to concentrate better than what I’m doing. I need to come back next season and be even better.’”

Neville emphasized that this group of players is the future of Inter Miami, and that with a little added quality, the Club is capable of reaching greater heights. 

“We need to build on what we’ve got now. Then, we add in the bits that are going to help us be successful. I think we’ve proven that we can compete with anyone in this league on any single day. Last year we added nineteen players [in a roster rebuild]; I’d say if we added three players of real quality, that would make us a challenger for the top four. I think the players have been unbelievable. But we want better. We want better, we want to win, we want to challenge, we want to go deep into the playoffs. We want to get to the semifinals, we want to get to the final. We want to finish in the top four, we want a home playoff. So, we can’t stand still. This is a step forward from where we were last season. I think we’ve changed the way people look at Inter Miami.”

The foundation that was established over the duration of Neville’s management has blossomed this season. Inter Miami has earned a reputation league-wide for playing fearlessly and fighting until the final whistle, earning positive results ten times throughout the 2022 MLS regular season with goals scored in the 79th minute or later. 

Another important facet that propelled the Herons this season was the team’s prowess at home; DRV PNK Stadium became a fortress for La Rosa y Negra, buoyed by the ever-electric Inter Miami fans that cheered the team to 10 wins and three draws at home in South Florida. Inter Miami’s home record stands at joint-third in the league for home wins, and sixth for most home points won.  

Part of the team’s phenomenal push to clinch a playoff spot, came from the sterling form of legendary forward Gonzalo Higuaín. In his final season, the Argentine scored 14 goals (16 total in the season) and provided two assists during the last 16 matches of the regular season and led the league in goals per 90 minutes with 0.823. Higuaín also earned five MLS Team of the Week selections, one MLS Player of the week honor, an MLS Goal of the Week delegation, and is one of three finalists for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. 

“We said to [Gonzalo] that he’s leaving in exactly the right way he should be leaving,” Neville said of the prolific goalscorer. “With the goals he’s scored, the happiness with which he’s played, the way he has embraced his teammates and carried them, is exactly what we expect, and I think he can be massively proud. He trains every single day like a lion. Even through the moments that were difficult, he trained every single day and never lost that hunger. He’s a champion. We’ve had a champion. I’ve coached a champion. We’ve played and trained with a champion every single day. He’s set an incredible example of durability, quality of goals, the ability to play right to the very last whistle, and the ability to inspire your teammates. As a club, we’re proud to have had him as one of our first Designated Players ever. He helped us get to the playoffs, and he can now go and enjoy his retirement. We wish him all the best, and he will always be welcomed at Inter Miami CF.” 

Higuaín, whose tenure at Inter Miami closes with his retirement, looked back fondly on the season and noted that his impact goes beyond scoring goals for the team; his legacy at the club will persevere because of the values he helped instill in the team. 

“I’m leaving very happy because I gave it my all out there today. That’s the most important thing, leaving it all out there,” Higuaín expressed. “I’m leaving very proud of everything we have achieved; my teammates, our fans, the coaches I’ve worked with and with whom I experienced many great memories. I wish this club the best, because they have great people and values. I think what I can be especially proud of in my career is not the goals, but that I have been a good person and I’m leaving great values in the team. Being a good person is the most important thing; the foundation I leave behind is among the most special things to me, and I hope that playing here at this club, I’ve helped in the long term to be able to set a winning mentality.” 

The winning mentality that Higuaín played a vital role in establishing reaped rewards for the team this season; the squad overcame a slow start to the season, surging through the second half of the campaign and into the playoffs. Inter Miami CF will return next year at the start of the 2023 season, ready to compete and ready to welcome its loyal supporters back for another thrilling campaign.