The Phil Neville era at Inter Miami is truly underway.
Straight away in preseason, his first order of business is to shape the culture in a positive way. Neville took over this winter after Miami's disappointing campaign in 2020. As coach and players alike are getting used to each other, Miami will soon kick off their first preseason friendly, little more than a month ahead of his competitive coaching debut in MLS.
Early signs are encouraging.
“We feel ahead of the competition," midfielder Jay Chapman told media on a virtual press conference. "I think we’re miles past of where we were last year, even just mental focus on sessions from the beginning. It’s been great.”
Neville has done some tactical work and drilled specific movement patterns in their early sessions, but has placed top importance on the basics.
“The plan for the first 10 days was to focus on the biggest fundamental: The intensity of our work," Neville said. "It’s been difficult, it’s been hard, it’s grueling but every single player has competed for every single minute of every session. Before you talk about systems and tactics, I want to see the attitude, commitment and culture within the team. Their commitment to push beyond their limit, out of their comfort zone, will be the thing we continue to do.”
“We’ve all bought into the kind of way Phil has approached things, which has been really good," Chapman added.
Miami brought back 20 players from their inaugural campaign, while Neville took over as head coach and Chris Henderson in the front office. To highlight their one year metamorphosis, Miami are returning just 66% of their minutes played last season, ahead of only the LA Galaxy, as per American Soccer Analysis' Eliot McKinley.
“There’s been a lot of focus on how we’re going to set up tactically to break teams down, which we kind of never had last year," Chapman said. "The sessions have been sharper, guys have been sharper in training. I think we’re going to be a really fun team to watch. ... Comparing us to last year, I think we’re going to be a much harder team to beat and much more dangerous in how we attack.”
With changes in the playing squad, Miami will hope for improvement from key players that are still in the squad. In attack, that means big-money designated players Rodolfo Pizarro and Gonzalo Higuain.
“We’re developing a really good team, a really good roster, but you always need the icing and cherry on top of the cake," Neville said. "Gonzalo and Rodolfo are players who will, if they perform, ultimately will make you successful, to make the playoffs and challenge for titles.”
Pizarro wasn't terrible in his debut season in Miami, with four goals and five assists in 19 appearances, but his price tag and quality suggest there is plenty more to come from the 27-year-old Mexico international. Higuain, meanwhile, scored just once in nine appearances after a late-season move from Juventus.
“We’re making sure them two are getting a lot of touches, getting a lot of attention," Neville said. "When you talk about leaders within the group, their attitude has been fantastic. We need big seasons from them individually. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed managing them thus far.”
The attack won't just rely on Pizarro and Higuain, of course. Last year's team MVP Lewis Morgan will play a big role, while Argentine youngsters Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza will look to have a much stronger second year than first in MLS. Also, No. 1 selection at the 2020 MLS SuperDraft Robbie Robinson is another to keep an eye on.
“We have a big talent on our hands with Robbie," Neville said. "I said this to him in a meeting yesterday: he can go as far as he possibly can, it’s just down to how much he wants to work for it. Every Inter Miami should be excited about Robbie Robinson.”