"He has to perform": Phil Neville challenges Gonzalo Higuain for more with Inter Miami

Three games into their third season in Major League Soccer, Inter Miami CF have taken just one point.

Their transformative offseason has surfaced in their early performances, and for head coach Phil Neville, the only answer is for his new-look squad to keep plugging away.

“I just wanted more quality from my quality players,” Neville said after Saturday’s 2-0 loss to LAFC. “Every team we’ve played against, their quality players stand up and score. Ours don’t and they need to.”

After missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in 2021, Miami’s roster underwent a near-complete overhaul with sporting director Chris Henderson at the wheel, compounded by league-imposed sanctions for the next two seasons.

Nearly 20 players departed in the offseason, including Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro (loan to CF Monterrey), World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, and a pair of veteran defenders in Leandro González Pírez (River Plate) and Nicolás Figal (Boca Juniors), who have since joined the Argentine top flight. There’s also Lewis Morgan, already Week 2’s Player of the Week at the New York Red Bulls after a trade.

All this has left forward Gonzalo Higuaín as the sole Designated Player on the Herons’ active roster, and Neville is demanding more from his star player. Higuain, the former Juventus and Real Madrid star, was their leading scorer in 2021 with 12 goals and nine assists.

“For us to be successful, he has to perform,” Neville said of the 34-year-old Argentine. “For us to be successful, he has to perform in these moments for this team. That’s the challenge. For me, and I’m really strong on this, his role hasn’t changed. He is the one that is our best finisher. He is the one that we demand the most goals from. He is the one that we demand the most assists from. Period.”

Gonzalo Higuain Inter Miami

Higuain’s not alone in attack, of course, with Henderson bringing in striker Leonardo Campana and winger Emerson Rodriguez as U22 Initiative signings, while Finland international winger Robert Taylor was another key addition. Beyond them, those like fullback DeAndre Yedlin, center back Damion Lowe and Brazilian midfielders Jean Mota and Gregore are other senior-level players for Neville to lean upon. And Miami have an open DP spot, which Henderson has said they plan to use this summer.

When summed together, Neville knows his solutions have to come on the field.

“I was expecting more quality in terms of the dominance that we had from our senior players, and they need to step up,” Neville said. “I expect us in those moments to have better quality because that’s what we brought in. I expect us to have better quality because that’s what we’ve got on the pitch.”

Despite Miami’s disappointing start, Neville still sees reason for optimism. A week following a 5-1 defeat at Austin FC, Neville said his feeling is totally different after another setback.

Miami showed more fight against LAFC despite playing a man down for the entire second half following Brek Shea’s red card. That mentality will be at the heart of whatever improvements they make in the weeks to come.

“We’re just in that sticky period at the moment where we don’t seem to get a break, and things are just going against us,” Neville said. “But that’s life and you've got to go through that. This is a great learning curve for this team, and the fact that they never gave in, the fact that they worked so hard, made me really proud of them.”