Inter Miami coach Phil Neville, equally loquacious win or lose, started his press conference Monday by saying that his team, mired in a six-game losing streak, needs to do less talking and focus on finding a way to win the final five games of the season.
Miami’s playoff chances are hanging by a thread heading into Wednesday’s home game against Toronto FC.
“We’re at a point where we’ve talked about what we’re going to do, now it’s time to probably say very little, focus and do our talking on the pitch,” Neville said. “Mathematically it is still possible. We can still do it. It must be that mindset. I told the players this morning if anyone doesn’t have that same mindset, please come and knock on my door and they can have the rest of the season off because I really want people who truly believe we can mathematically do it.”
Inter Miami is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points shy of the final playoff spot after being outscored 16-1 over the past six games.
“We’re in a results business, every single one of us, and we’re all under the microscope and we want to make sure we end the season well,” he said.
Neville then answered questions about forward Robbie Robinson, who missed a golden opportunity to score in last Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Columbus; injured defender Nico Figal, whose absence coincides directly with Miami’s losing skid; and the pressure on several Inter Miami players who are “playing for their futures” and trying to earn new contracts.
Robinson has scored four goals this season, shown his athleticism and potential but has been on a dry spell of late. He got in perfect position to score against the Crew last Saturday but lost his footing and couldn’t get a shot off.
“Robbie measures his performances on goals and goals alone and because he’s had those chances and they’ve not gone for him, he’s probably in a state where he feels he’s not playing at his level,” Neville said. “His all-around play, his movement, his ability to press the ball has been fantastic. It’s just the goals haven’t gone in for him. He’s 18 months into his professional career and probably beat himself up by a couple of the chances that have gone missing, thinking `would’ve, should’ve, could’ve’. He has to keep persevering. The mentality and ruthlessness of a striker is to keep persevering. If he keeps that attitude, that goal will come.”
Figal, meanwhile, has been sorely missed. The Spanish-speaking backline of Figal, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Christian Makoun was like “a brick wall” in Neville’s words during an impressive 11-game stretch during which Miami had just one loss.
“Their communication and movements were all in sync, they knew each other and what they were going to do and that’s something we have missed,” Neville said. “He gives that back three a composure.”
He is doubtful for Wednesday’s game, but may return Saturday against Cincinnati.
“Nico’s a winner, conceding goals hurts him,” Neville said. “The modern-day defender, defending is the second thing on their mind. They’re thinking about attacking. The defend-first, attack second mentality of when I was growing up is flipped because of the modern game. Nico is a throwback to the old school mentality.”
Neville said he and his staff keep daily and weekly charts of small-sided games at training and run a tally of which players are consistently on the winning teams. Figal is always among the top three.
“That’s the impact he has on his teammates,” Neville said. “He’s infectious. He throws himself at the ball, wants to win every single game, every possession game. That mentality spreads to people around him.”
Neville is a planner. He said he and sporting director Chris Henderson have been working on next season’s roster for the past three months. MLS-imposed sanctions for the club’s rule breaking last year leave them with financial challenges. Among the questions is whether to retain the players whose contracts expire in December, including: Brek Shea, Victor Ulloa, Federico Higuain, John McCarthy, Kelvin Leerdam and Sami Guediri. Neville has said he wants to lower the roster age in 2022.
“They’re playing for their futures, fighting for their lives,” Neville said. “They’re worried about how it’s going to affect their family, their financial status. I hope that’s their motivation over the next five games. They’re playing for their futures at Inter Miami and in football because if it’s not at Inter Miami, other clubs are watching us and saying `Can we take x,y,z?’ You’ve got to use that as a positive.”