Tonight's U.S. Open Cup third-round match between Inter Miami and Miami FC is a "must-win" match for Herons' skipper Phil Neville.
(For more on tonight's match, check out Miami Herald soccer-beat writer Michelle Kaufman's story here.)
La Rosanegra has lost six straight matches, falling from the top of the Eastern Conference standings to 14th of 15 teams. Yes, injuries have kept Neville from fielding his preferred 11; yes, former MLS MVP Josef Martinez has performed more poorly than anyone could have imagined and bright young striker Leo Campana missed the first six matches with a calf injury; and, yes, losing team captain Gregore for six months while recovering from foot surgery leaves the team without what Neville has called the team's "soul."
Those circumstances, and Neville's friendship with his former Manchester United teammate and Inter Miami owner David Beckham, has bought the coach time to right the Pink and Black ship. But tonight's U.S. Open Cup third-round rematch with USL Championship side Miami FC is a hurdle Neville MUST clear.
Why is this a make-or-break match? Isn't it obvious? Inter Miami, with ambitions to become a power not only in North America but globally, doesn't even play in its titular hometown. A loss to Miami FC at Florida International University would set the team's new standard for consecutive losses (7). But it also would be a humbling defeat at the hands of a team lower on the American soccer pyramid, the Herons greatest local rival AND a side that, for a few more years, at least, can claim to be Miami's team.
Inter Miami has played maddeningly well throughout much of its current slump. Chris Henderson has brought in valuable talent and stockpiled cash to help the Herons' Quixotic pursuit of Lionel Messi in June. Newcomers Kamal Miller and Dixon Arroyo were more than serviceable in their Inter Miami debuts last week against Houston, and the Herons attack looked potent, creating 20 shots on goal.
The Herons don't play like a 2-0-6 team, but playoff spots and trophies aren't won by looking good. It's time to get results any way we can.
If Inter Miami loses tonight, Neville should start updating his resume.