Phil Neville says his Inter Miami side have had to “climb Everest” to put their awful start to the season behind them.
The Herons took just eight points form their opening 12 games of 2021 and endured a six-game losing run between May 22 and July 22.
But after Indiana Vassilev scored a 94th-minute winner at home to Nashville SC on Sunday, Miami are now four games unbeaten, taking eight points during that time and finally lifting themselves off the foot of the Eastern Conference.
The nadir of Miami’s season so far was undoubtedly the 5-0 defeat they suffered at home to the New England Revolution at the end of that six-match losing streak. Neville says he showed his squad a picture of Everest after that game to give them a sense of the task they faced in turning their form around.
“We showed them a picture after New England of a mountain and that’s what we had, a mountain to climb,” Neville told reporters after Sunday’s match (via Franco Panizo).
“We showed them a picture of Everest and told them a story about what it takes to get to the top of it. You can’t get to the top of Everest just on your own, you’ve got to go as a group. You’ve got to go every stage as a group, together, you’ve got to help each other.
“New England was as low as it got, we couldn’t get any lower than that. It was a time where our reputations were on the line. We came out, we took some punches, we accepted them and all of sudden, we started to play like a team.”
Neville also spoke of the difference the addition of goalkeeper Nick Marsman has made, with the Dutchman conceding five against the Revs on his debut, but just one per game in his four appearances since.
“The goalkeeper has made a hell of a difference, I’ve got to say,” Neville added. “His composure at the back has given the team composure and I think that’s probably what has helped the team more than anything.
“We’ve started to believe in each other, we’ve started to trust each other. Slowly, we’ve worked every day, we’re a fitter team, we’re out-running most teams now. I think the work that we did when we had three weeks off, we put them through a heavy workload, I think we’re beginning to bear the fruits of that.”
Another key facet to Miami’s recent turnaround has been the improved form of the Designated Players (DP), especially Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi.
Two of the most high-profile players in MLS right now, the duo have largely flattered to deceive since joining in 2020.
But recently, Higuain has been on a goalscoring tear, netting three goals in his last three appearances – including the equaliser against Nashville – to extend his tally to eight for the season, while he provided an assist in a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union.
It was Matuidi who set up Higuain’s strike against Nashville at the weekend and Neville believes maintaining the form of these key players will be vital to sustaining Miami’s turnaround moving forward.
“I’d say the three DP players played like DP players,” Neville said. “When your DP players play like that, we will win games of football, we’ll challenge for the playoffs.”
On Matuidi and Higuain, he added: “Blaise, I’ve got say, I’ve not seen him play better than what I have in the last two or three weeks for Inter Miami.
“What I think about Gonzalo in the second half is that, if he plays at that level, he makes tackles, runs around, plays with that quality, the whole team, staff, [and] supporters are inspired. And he’s inspired. So that’s his level and that’s how good he is, he’s world-class, Blaise is world-class. [Rodolfo] Pizarro is world-class.
“So when them three are playing at that level, we will be a better team.”
Inter Miami face a tough trip to NYCFC next Saturday before hosting the Chicago Fire.