miami-aug13

With nine matches to go, Inter Miami CF are in the thick of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoff race.

Now four games unbeaten, prized midseason signing Alejandro Pozuelo scored the match-winner in the 84th minute to complete his brace and claim a 3-2 victory over defending champions New York City FC on Saturday evening at DRV PNK Stadium.

The Herons sit in seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, level on 33 points with two teams below them – the New England Revolution (who have a match in hand) and FC Cincinnati – but ahead via the total wins tiebreaker (9).

In the hunt

Miami, now a third-year club, squeaked into an expanded playoff field in 2020 as an expansion side. Then they missed out in 2021 while placing 11th, contributing to near-wholesale roster changes this past offseason.

On track for a faster turnaround than many envisioned, Neville recognizes they're firmly in the final sprint over these next two months. And he raved about Miami's comeback spirit vs. NYCFC, twice clawing back an equalizer – first from Pozuelo in the 39th minute and then from Ariel Lassiter in the 63rd minute.

"Every disappointment that we’re having to suffer, we’ve got a team that’s committed, that keeps plowing forward," Neville said. "That is a great quality and that gives me great hope. We keep our feet on the ground. There’s a long way to go. I’d say if it was a running race we’re still probably in an 800-meter race with two laps to go on the track.”

Game-changing addition

Pozuelo, who has three assists in his first six matches for Miami, joined via a trade from Toronto FC on July 7. The Spanish midfielder required just $150,000 in General Allocation Money upfront, giving them a Designated Player in the No. 10 spot.

"[Pozuelo's a] game changer for us, who makes plays, who creates things, who was the best player on the pitch I thought," Neville said.

Pozuelo, the 2020 Landon Donovan MLS MVP, is playing for a long-term future in Miami. Alongside Brazilian midfielders Jean Mota and Gregore, he's a written-in-pen starter for the Herons.

"He’s a leader, he’s a winner and he’s here to win," Neville said. "He’s here to earn a contract, he’s here to earn a contract for next season. What he has done and what made me and [sporting director] Chris [Henderson] really, really, really push for it is that he didn’t demand anything other than just give me these three, four months and you’ll give me a contract at the end of it. Don’t you worry about that, I back myself."

On the mend

While Miami are in a decent spot health-wise for the stretch run, more good news may be on the horizon on the injury front. The club's co-leading goal-scorer Leonardo Campana, who came off after 22 minutes on Aug. 3 at the San Jose Earthquakes thanks to a left quad strain, is "really close" and could return sooner than expected, per Neville. New signing Corentin Jean, who played 10 minutes on July 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, has been out due to an adductor injury but will be back next week.

"We have incredible depth in the squad," Neville said. "We're going to need that depth, we're going to need that freshness, we're going to need that firepower in the next nine games."

Miami will need that extra effort even more next weekend when they host a revamped Toronto FC team led by Italian internationals Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, who are yet to lose an MLS match since their arrival.

While Pozuelo can likely provide a solid scouting report, the Reds look like a much different team than the one the 30-year-old was on for the first half of the season.

"[It will be] an open game and right now the truth is that they are having a good run, but well we will try hard there, we will try to win the game and most importantly we know the importance of that game," Pozuelo said. " ... The truth is that we are going to go against them and we are going to try to win the game, which is the most important thing "