Doubt around Inter Miami CF, amid a seven-game winless streak from May through July, quickly intensified.

And as Phil Neville conceded after Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, some of those thoughts crept in internally as well.

But enjoying a five-game unbeaten streak and 5-1-3 run, the Herons are knocking on the door of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“We're showing all the qualities that people probably from outside the club didn't think that this team had,” Neville said matter-of-factly. “And probably, two months ago, I and the players didn't feel that as well. We probably didn't know that we had these qualities inside us.

“I've got to say that I didn't think we had these qualities inside when I saw us for the first maybe two months of the season. Players have been absolutely outstanding, showing an incredible fight – sometimes against adversity, sometimes when the going gets tough."


Star striker Gonzalo Higuain provided the difference against the defending MLS Cup champions, netting his team-leading ninth goal of the season in the 16th minute. The Argentine pounced on a poor backpass and scooped his effort over Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room, delighting the DRV PNK Stadium crowd.

It’s the latest celebratory moment of an up-and-down second MLS season for Miami, who entered the league last year as an expansion side – during the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days, no less. They brought Neville on board in January after Diego Alonso departed, and the Englishman now believes they’re swimming together upstream.

“It took six months to get them to where I wanted to get them to, to get them to understand what I was about, to get them to understand what it takes to become and have a successful team,” Neville said. “Which means you can't be a team of individuals. It means that you can't just go out there and try to win the game on your own. The best teams don't do that.

“Columbus last season, they went out there and were the best team in the league because they played as a team. And that wasn't just the 11 players on the field. It was a 22-man squad plus the staff plus the supporting staff.”

Looking at the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs race, Miami are currently in ninth place – two spots below the fateful and decisive Eastern Conference line. They have a game in hand on those around them, though, fighting tooth-and-nail with a resurgent Atlanta United to make a similar vault forward.

Miami squeezed into the playoffs last year, then as the No. 10 seed in an expanded field. They’d have to be the No. 7 seed or higher this go-around, which translates into overcoming teams like CF Montréal, D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union.

With three straight shutouts in tow, the project continues Tuesday at Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers Toronto FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

“The players are just beginning to smell something is happening,” Neville said. “You know sometimes you want to play things down, sometimes you want to just keep your feet on the floor, which we will do. But we've got tremendous momentum and what I've said to the players now is we go to Toronto with the same kind of attitude, with the same kind of determination and this is a big week for Inter Miami Football Club.”