Inter Miami CF's struggles in 2021 have been well-documented, but in recent weeks the second-year MLS side has slowly but surely clawed within striking distance of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Heading into Friday's critical derby against Orlando City SC as part of Heineken Rivalry Week, Phil Neville's men are 4W-1L-1D over their last six matches — with that one draw coming in a 1-1 road result against Orlando at Exploria Stadium on August 4. While there's still plenty of work to be done to vault above the playoff line, recent results have inspired hope that a season that once looked lost is indeed salvageable.
“We’re much better as a team now, much more united on and off the pitch, and it shows. ...We’re taking it step by step," defender Leandro González Pírez said ahead of Friday's match. "The idea is to try to keep growing and setting short-term goals that we can meet so the team continues to improve."
Beyond the obvious rivalry implications, a positive result could serve as a further springboard to show that Miami have turned the corner. Neville said that he's fully confident his team will be able to do that, in part due to how they took a point last time out against Oscar Pareja's team.
“Probably the most vivid recollection is the supporters that we had at the game last time, how much it means to them," said Neville. "So, we want to put on a show for them. We want to show them the fight, the spirit of togetherness that we show, and I want the same type of performance as what we did in Orlando. I thought we were outstanding. And if we do that, then we'll have a great chance of getting a good result and points on Friday."
Another positive development that Miami hope carries into Friday and beyond is the resurgent form of Mexico international midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro. He's scored all three of his goals this season during the club's last two games, including a brace in Miami's 3-1 win over Toronto FC on Aug. 21 that earned him Week 21 MLS Player of the Week honors.
Inter Miami's Rodolfo Pizarro goal vs. Toronto | Enhanced Highlight
That's the form Miami expected when bringing Pizarro in as a much-heralded Designated Player, showcasing what Neville has long maintained the 27-year-old is capable of. With the recent outburst, Neville believes the floodgates are open going forward, with Pizarro returning to the club after featuring in Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.
"With Rodolfo, it was always going to be one goal that would change his life," Neville said. "He was having good performances but the goals weren’t there. And somebody like Rodolfo would measure his performance in goals, assists, match-winning performances. And the goal against Chicago was a match-winning performance, the goals against Toronto won us this game. So he’s won us two games. Ultimately that’s what we pay him to do, that’s why we signed him and ultimately that’s what he’s about. The goals have changed his career here in terms of him now becoming a match-winner."
"Even before he went away to the Gold Cup, there was a change in his attitude, there was a greater work ethic, a greater commitment to the team, a greater sense of enjoyment from him because I think he’d had tough times."