Phil Neville was in a good mood after Inter Miami’s 0-0 draw at Nashville SC on Sunday, even though the events of the match contained reasons for frustration.
“Yeah, I'm really pleased,” said the Englishman at the start of his postgame press conference. “In a strange way, it was probably the performance I enjoyed the most out of the three we’ve had so far, because we had to show qualities that maybe people outside the club didn’t think that this team or this squad had in terms of fighting, togetherness, spirit, and having to dig deep at moments.”
With brothers Gonzalo and Federico Higuain, scorers of three of Miami’s four goals this season, home in Argentina mourning the recent passing of their mother and others missing or limited by injury and illness, Miami were shorthanded in attack. They also saw Robbie Robinson and Nico Figal pick up or exacerbate hamstring issues, while Rodolfo Pizarro cut a lonely figure up top as a false 9.
HIGHLIGHTS: Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF | May 02, 2021
But the Herons controlled most of the match’s tempo as they notched four points from their first three matches, a level it took them eight games to reach a year ago. A defensive-minded XI limited NSC’s looks at goal – Nashville coach Gary Smith admitted Miami “proved very difficult to break down today” – and it took a few excellent saves from Joe Willis to deny the visitors a smash-and-grab victory.
“The main thing today was the clean sheet,” said Ryan Shawcross, a steady sentinel in the back line on his first MLS start. “I don’t think the club’s had too many [clean] sheets over the last season and so far this season, so it's important for us to rack them up, because if you want to be a successful team you’ve got to have clean sheets.”
Miami were also denied a chance to play the final 20-plus minutes with a man advantage, as Walker Zimmerman escaped a red card for a hauling-down of Robinson that might easily have been ruled a denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Rather than lambast the decision, however, Neville applauded it.
VIDEO REVIEW: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC - 70th minute
“I think he made the right decision. And I know it was tight, [Dave] Romney was just coming around, it was so tight when you see him go over to the screen and have a look,” said IMCF’s first-year boss. “Ultimately, I think if it was us, and it was Leandro [Gonzalez Pirez] covering round and Ryan [Shawcross], we probably want that same decision in terms of sort of like giving the benefit of the doubt to the defender.
“Obviously at the time I wanted him sent off, that goes without saying, but I thought the referee got that decision spot on. And I told the fourth official to make sure that the referee knew that, because I think it's such a difficult decision to make. … Yes, we could be disappointed, if Zimmerman got sent off, it would’ve helped us. Sometimes you've just got to say well done to the referee and just get on with it.”
Neville also remained philosophical about Robinson’s situation, despite the young attacker seemingly aggravating an existing hamstring issue after coming off the bench to replace Pizarro in the 67th minute. The coaching staff played it much safer with Figal, who was scratched from the starting lineup and replaced with Kelvin Leerdam when he felt tightness in his hamstring.
“We had all the evidence to suggest that he was fully fit,” said Neville of Robinson. “With young players, sometimes they don't know their own bodies. They don't know what pain is and they don't know what tightness is. I think that comes with experience. You think about the durability that Blaise Matuidi developed over the last 10, 15 years, he knows his own body, Robbie doesn't.
“So he's still developing that. He's a very, very young 22 year old, who's still learning about professional football and behaviors of professional football, and elite performance and about how to prepare your body.”