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Crossing the Touchline: Crew vs. Inter Miami

Learn about Miami before the team flies north to face the Black & Gold.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Inter Miami CF Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After a contentious rivalry match between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati, the Black & Gold don’t have much time to regroup. Wednesday, Columbus welcomes the first of two opponents to Field through the end of the week. Inter Miami is up first with the Chicago Fire awaiting the Crew on Saturday.

It's been a while since the Black & Gold and Miami have faced off in the MLS regular season, with head coach Phil Neville’s side facing Columbus for the first time since Oct. 16, 2021. A lot’s happened in the Miami camp over the past six months. To learn more, Massive Report spoke with Ian Hest from The Heron Outlet, an Inter Miami podcast.

Massive Report: At the beginning of the season, Inter Miami was hit with a league penalty for breaking league roster policies, the largest fine in league history. Then the team lost four of its first five games, earning just one point to start the year. It felt like Miami was going to need at least a season to recover and more to rebuild. Instead, Inter is five points away from the team’s entire 2021 season total with seven matches to play. What helped Miami bounce back from those early performances?

The Heron Outlet: Miami had one of the biggest roster turnovers in league history too. 19 players in, 20 players out. Creating an entirely new team from scratch took some time to get things going, gel, and find joy playing together.

Their success this season has to be a huge testament to the work that Sporting Director Chris Henderson and Head Coach Phil Neville have done, moving on from a lot of the issues that made for such a chaotic start to the club, and instead finding players who enjoy competing and building a culture that better reflects the energy and excitement of South Florida.

That’s translated to success on the field. Prior to this weekend’s loss to Red Bulls, they were even tied on points with the Philadelphia Union over the 21 game stretch since that tough start to the season. Dramatic late goals, especially at home where they have been very successful, have fueled that. Seven of their last 20 have come after the 80th minute.

MR: Before the match against the New York Red Bulls, it looked like Miami was reaching a new level with a draw against CF Montréal and wins against New York City FC and Toronto FC. What’s pushed Inter into now a contender for hosting a playoff match?

HO: Nothing says Miami more than a flair for late game drama. Over their last 12 matches, Inter Miami has gained 12 extra points from losing positions in the last half hour. This is one of the best conditioned teams in the conference, they’re very deep, and they’re not afraid to make you run.

They also enjoy versatile formations and fluid play adding to workload they demand of their opponents. They very regularly alternate mid-game between three and four at the back, will flip wingers to gain numbers advantages, and wear teams down with a willingness to play end to end for the full 90 minutes. This has been especially true at home where teams like NYCFC, Toronto, Minnesota, New England, and Charlotte all faded late in the exhausting South Florida heat and humidity.

MR: A large hurdle to jump for Inter this week is playing the Crew without Alejandro Pozuelo, due to his red card against the Red Bulls. Who fills in for Pozuelo and how much does his absence impact Miami?

HO: The acquisition of Pozuelo has been a massive improvement for the Herons. Prior to his arrival, Miami was playing almost their entire season without a Designated Player on the pitch (with Rodolfo Pizarro on loan to Monterrey and Gonzalo Higuain sent to the bench due to a lack of production). Pozuelo’s introduction has brought new life and creativity within the team and his partnership with Higuain has turned into one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league recently.

With Pozuelo out due to suspension and Higuain likely out due to an injury he sustained against Red Bulls that led to his substitution at half, Miami will turn to 21-year-old Bryce Duke who has become a quality understudy. He will be protected by Miami’s two Brazilian central midfielders, Jean Mota and captain Gregore, who are the engine that runs the team.

Without Higuain up top, they will rely on their speedy, creative wingers in Ariel Lassiter and possibly Emerson Rodriguez to find width and stretch Columbus, as well as count more on the recently acquired Corentin Jean from RC Lens in France.