David Ruiz had an eventful match Saturday. The 19-year-old midfielder scored his first MLS goal, registered his first senior-team assist on Josef Martinez’ game-winning strike, and was shown his first red card in the 81st minute.
The Miami Academy product, a kid from the city’s “Little Havana” community, was the most notable player on the pitch at DRV PNK Stadium, but the 2-1 verdict against Eastern Conference and MLS leaders New England Revolution featured probably Inter Miami’s best all-around performance of the season.
The win was the Herons’ fifth straight in all competitions and third consecutive league win. La Rosanegra improved its MLS record to 5-0-6 (15 points).
Some first-flush post-match thoughts:
1. The kids are alright
Ruiz attracted the most attention, but fellow homegrown academy grads Benjamin Cremaschi, an 18-year-old Argentinian midfielder, and left back Noah Allen, a 19-year-old from Pembroke Pines, played influential minutes, as well. Cremaschi and Ruiz started in Inter Miami’s midfield, while Allen came off the bench in the 76th minute and, after Ruiz was ejected five minutes later with his second yellow card, was crucial to short-handed Miami’s weathering New England’s dangerous attack.
2. ‘El Rey’ has found his nasty
Josef Martinez didn’t score in his first seven MLS matches with Inter Miami but ended the longest scoring drought of his career last week with two goals against his former team, Atlanta United. He started midweek against the Charleston Battery in a U.S. Open Cup match the Herons won 1-0 on an unfortunate own-goal by the visitors. Coach Phil Neville replaced Martinez in the 55th minute — a planned substitution to rest him for this week’s test — but the man who earned the nickname “El Rey” in Atlanta showed his royal frustration by snubbing Neville as he left the field.
Was Neville upset at his star’s behavior? No.
“I liked it,” he told the media. “I want him to get nasty, to get that fire. I saw some of that and that excites me for Saturday’s game against New England.”
His excitement was warranted. Josef looked more involved, more active and more created Saturday than he has in any match this season. He and Leonardo Campana are beginning to show some exciting chemistry that will produce goals this season, but Ruiz’ sliding tackle and ball recovery at the Miami goal post set up El Rey’s 44th-minute goal. Ruiz’ tackle kept New England from clearing the ball, and his quick recovery and pass to Martinez in front of goal let Josef casually kick it into the back of the net.
Three goals in two league matches gives Martinez the team lead. Stay nasty, King.
3. Maybe Phil knows how to coach after all
It’s tough being Phil Neville. Before he coached a match at Inter Miami, some supporters wrote him off as, at worst, David Beckham’s sidekick and lackey, and at best, an inexperienced coach who wouldn’t adjust to the unique challenges posed by MLS’ grueling travel demands and diverse climates and playing conditions.
During a six-match losing streak earlier this year, which tied the club record set in Neville’s first year as head coach in 2021, the keyboard masses’ criticism of the Fizzer reached a fever pitch. Nothing less than his immediate termination would suffice. Five straight wins don’t make him Sir Alex Ferguson but, given the injury challenges we’ve faced, I think 15 points is an OK showing after 11 matches, and we’re still in the U.S. Open Cup chase. We have a talented young team that will continue experiencing growing pains, but I think Phil needs the rest of this season to show us he’s the man for the job.