Gonzalo Higuain is carrying Inter Miami CF on his shoulders just when they need him the most.
The Argentine legend pulled off late-game heroics for the third straight match, scoring a clutch 86th-minute goal to defeat Toronto FC, 1-0, and keep the Herons in control of their Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs destiny.
Friday night's dramatics at BMO Field followed previous last-gasp winners from Pipa against D.C. United (3-2, fourth minute of stoppage time) and the Columbus Crew (2-1, 82nd minute).
This latest goal, Higuaín's 14th of the season, was arguably the most important in club history as the victory moves Miami three points above the playoff line, clear of the eighth-place Crew with just two games remaining (Columbus have three games left).
“I’m very emotional because this team doesn’t give up, it fights to the end, and I’m very, very proud to be part of this team,” said Higuaín post-game. “It seems like we like to suffer and score late, but I knew myself I was going to have another chance to score. I knew that if I stayed focused and concentrated, I knew I was going to have another opportunity, and the chance arrived and I was able to finish it.
"It was very important for us to get this win and this goal because it’s a big one as we push to the playoffs.”
WATCH: Gonzalo Higuaín comes up clutch AGAIN to keep Miami in playoff mix
Praise be to Pipa
The Herons have now won three consecutive games, with Higuaín finding the back of the net in four straight outings (five goals overall). No other player in club history has scored three games in a row.
After initially falling short of the hype surrounding his 2020 midseason arrival, the 34-year-old Designated Player is finally in-form and leading the club. This resurgence has head coach Phil Neville offering plenty of praise for the face of the squad.
“This group is an amazing group and are now beginning to believe what we believed in them from day one. That’s great to see. I think it helps when you’ve got a center forward that’s carrying the team towards the playoffs,” said the Englishman.
“I’ve said from day one: We are fortunate, we’re lucky. I’m lucky to manage a world-class striker,” Neville added. “If you think about the adversity that he’s had to overcome in his Inter Miami career, I think it’s a testament to his character. The fact that he said from day one that he wanted to finish with Inter Miami as a winner. He’s leading a young, inexperienced squad to a place where they are challenging and where we want to be, so we’re really happy.”
With 12 goals in his last 15 games, the former Real Madrid, Juventus, and Napoli star is among the hottest players in the league, which, according to Neville, has earned him the adoration and respect of his teammates in the dressing room.
“He’s probably where he wanted to be when he first came [to] MLS,” the coach said. “He wanted to be the man, the man that everyone looked up to, the man everyone worshiped – and that comes two ways. You’ve got to have a team around you, and you’ve also got to play the performances yourself. And I think what we’ve done, we’ve provided him with a team and a platform, particularly with [Alejandro] Pozuelo coming in, and he’s given the team back more.”
Added Neville: “We’ve got a world-class player in Gonzalo and he’s delivering everything and more for the team that worships him, the team that thinks he’s God, the team that thinks he’s the king … he’s got everybody on a string. It’s brilliant to see the happiness in which he’s playing his football, the happiness in when he comes into work every single day, and he’s got the whole dressing room playing to his tune, and that is through respect, that is through encouragement, and that is through his performances. That’s what you get from winners.”
Eyes on the prize
For Miami, the task at hand is far from finished. They’ll return home to take on Florida rivals Orlando City SC on Wednesday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) in the penultimate game of their regular season before hosting CF Montréal on Decision Day, Oct. 9 (2:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
Neville is calling on fans to show up in a big way.
“I think a real strong message now is to all those Inter Miami supporters, in Fort Lauderdale, in Miami, in Hollywood, all the surrounding areas. Let’s get down to DRV PNK [Stadium] Wednesday and let’s fill the stadium,” he said.
“Let’s make it a real, real hostile atmosphere. Let’s fill it, let’s get behind the boys. I think they deserve a full house. I think they deserve a full stadium.”