Inter Miami win at Seattle Sounders sets "high bar", Gonzalo Higuain nears return

Coming off a five-game winless streak, Inter Miami CF’s season-opening struggles very well could have reached seven consecutive games given the caliber of opponent that awaited.

But head coach Phil Neville’s team has rebuked external expectations these last two weeks, first by beating the New England Revolution, 3-2, at home. They followed that up Saturday evening with a 1-0 win at Seattle Sounders FC, sparking a mini climb up the Eastern Conference table.

They aren’t out of the woods just yet, but this stretch shows a step in the right direction.

“I think what you saw today was a continuation of the work that’s required to become a good team and the work that’s required to have a real clear identity,” Neville said. “That’s two wins on the bounce now against the Eastern Conference champions and probably the best team in the Western Conference. So that should give us confidence and give us massive learning and growth to keep believing in that growth of our identity.”

Context is important to consider, as New England were missing several key starters before the 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners recorded a shocking fifth straight defeat last weekend at the Herons. And Seattle fielded a heavily-rotated lineup after advancing to the 2022 Concacaf Champions League Final midweek with a 4-2 aggregate win over New York City FC, leaving center back Xavier Arreaga as the lone holdover.

But nobody in South Florida will squabble too much over the six points, especially not fullback DeAndre Yedlin. The US men’s national team defender assisted Robbie Robinson’s 41st-minute game-winner upon his return to the club where he became a homegrown star in 2013.

“This win was a really big one for us,” Yedlin said. “I think in this league especially you have to be able to grind out those kind of wins, especially away from home. With this young group, it’s important that they know that we can do that. Now, we’ve done it in a really hard place to play against a good team.”

Inter Miami deployed the same starting XI from a week ago, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain recovers from a reported knee injury. That left Leonardo Campana in the No. 9 role, and he recorded a secondary assist while also acting as a release valve and hold-up option in possession.

Inter Miami
Inter Miami celebrate scoring at the Seattle Sounders.

The Designated Player should return within a week, Neville said, stressing the 34-year-old former Argentine international’s importance amid the third-year club’s evolution.

“We will need him without a shadow of a doubt,” Neville said. “This season is really long, this week is going to be a long week. We will need Gonzalo Higuain. I heard him on FaceTime to [Jean\] Mota, to Gregore, to Campana before the game, wishing them all the best, cheering them on on the coach on the way to the game. I know that he’s desperate to get back with the team and I know for a fact that we will need him from now until the end of the season.

“He wants to finish this season on a high, so the motivation and the challenge there is probably greater than he’s ever had since he came to Inter Miami. He’s now got competition for places, he now sees a team that’s playing a type of football with certain types of behaviors now that are non-negotiable. And he’s just got to fit into that, which I’m sure he will do.”

Higuain's eventual return will reignite a striker debate in Miami, but in the meantime, Neville said their next step is about building off this “high bar.”

“​​Now it’s to keep taking it to the other level of scoring goals, attacking football, keeping our identity strong and taking baby steps forward,” Neville said. “We’ve got seven points. It’s still not enough for where we want to be or where we want to finish, so we just need consistency now in our performances and our results.”