For Inter Miami CF head coach Phil Neville, their first win of the 2022 season – Saturday's 3-2 victory over the New England Revolution in Week 6, highlighted by a history-making hat trick from Leonardo Campana – brought upon a welcome wave of relief.
"You saw it in their eyes after the last game in Houston," he remarked. "They were hurting, hurting badly. And what we've done this week, we've given them a lot of courage. And that's important to the modern player."
After going 0W-4L-1D to start the year, and with DP striker Gonzalo Higuain unavailable for selection on Saturday (reported knee injury), that courage was particularly evident in Campana. The Ecuadorian U22 Initiative player recorded the first hat trick in IMCF history, doing what higher-profile candidates including Higuain hadn't yet done. Notably, the 34-year-old Argentine was absent after a week when a retirement saga unfolded in the press.
"Last year, we had only Gonzalo score, and nobody else came close," Neville said. "If we can get five [or] six players on five, six, seven goals, then we're going to be a playoff team."
HAT TRICK: Inter Miami's Leonardo Campana sinks New England
Campana certainly moved toward that tally on Saturday, scoring two well-struck goals within six first-half minutes and adding an opportunistic third late to show his promise. The Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premier League) loan acquisition doesn't occupy an international roster spot thanks to being a US passport holder, plus is in contention to represent Ecuador at November's World Cup. He's been capped 10 times by La Tri.
"The first thing he said is, 'I want to go to the World Cup,'" Neville remembered of when they first met. "I said, 'Join this football club and we'll get you there.' So he works, he works so hard. He knows what he has to work on. He's an intelligent boy from a really good family ... he knows how to behave as a professional. He's a top, top professional. When you look at him sometimes, you think he's 28, when he's really only 21."
Campana, reminiscing on that initial meeting with Neville, added: "I told him that my ambition also was to be on the national team, to get minutes, and to be part of the World Cup team. He told me that he will do everything to get me in the World Cup, though obviously it depends on me, on how I train, on what I give for the team."
Despite meeting the eye test of a squad that looked better and got an elusive win without Higuain, that doesn't mean the veteran is suddenly out of Neville's team sheet. He noted the upcoming schedule of matches, starting with a cross-country trek to a stern test against Seattle Sounders FC next Saturday (10 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), means he needs everyone available to step up.
"I'm hoping to have all my experienced players back," the English manager noted. "We need them all. We've got three games next week. We go to Seattle on Thursday, we get back Sunday night and we're playing in the U.S. Open Cup game on Tuesday [against Miami FC]. We've got 24 hours to recover from a three-hour time difference and a seven-hour flight. So we're going to need all our players and I'm excited to get the squad back together."
Playing more in a No. 10 role, the former Juventus and Real Madrid star has scored twice from the penalty-kick spot this year. But Campana introduced a different element against the 2021 Supporters' Shield winners, flanked by Robbie Robinson and Ariel Lassiter.
"I think it's stupid for us to sit here today and say, 'We can say goodbye to Gonzalo,'" Neville added. "Gonzalo's a big part of this football club. We pay him, and he's got a massive contract to this football club for him to deliver. He's part of a group of players that we need."