Inter Miami heads into home game against NYCFC in mad scramble for MLS playoff spot

·4 min read
MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

If Inter Miami coach Phil Neville has learned one thing since joining Major League Soccer last season, it’s that the league has parity, which means anything can happen with 10 games to go.

Heading into a Saturday night home game against second-place New York City FC (8 p.m., My33), Miami is in a four-way tie for seventh place with 30 points in pursuit of the final playoff spot, however they trail in ninth place due to the tiebreakers.

The difference between fifth-place Columbus (33 points) and 11th-place Charlotte (29) is just four points.

“It’s really exciting,” Neville said. “The transfer window closed last week, and you look at the investment of the teams from the bottom up until fourth place, everyone knows there’s going to have to be game-changers added to the squads. We’ve added two in [Alejandro] Pozuelo and Coco [Jean]. Toronto’s got theirs. Chicago got theirs. Columbus added a center forward that’s had an instant impact. New England on deadline day went crazy a little bit because you’re going to need people that will take you above that pack of teams.”

One win can lift a team to fifth place, and a loss can drop a team to 11th.

“The team that’s going to be most consistent and hold their nerve,” will make the playoffs, Neville said. “There’s going to be dropped points and the team that handles the ups and downs will get that final two or three playoff spots.”

How even are MLS teams?

A Soccer America article this week pointed out that from 1996 to 2022, MLS has had 15 different league champions, whereas the Premier League has had six, Bundesliga six, La Liga five and Serie A five.

MLS teams can struggle near the bottom of the table one season and jump to the playoffs the next. FC Cincinnati and Austin FC are good examples.

Austin finished 24th of 27 teams last season and is now in second place in the West behind LAFC. Cincinnati had the worst MLS record its first three seasons and now sits in sixth place in the East, above the playoff line.

On the flip side, MLS teams can have huge success one season and flounder the next. Toronto FC won the 2017 Supporters Shield (best regular-season record) but failed the make the playoffs in 2018. Los Angeles FC won the Supporters Shield in 2019, did not make the playoffs in 2021, and this season is back on top.

Miami faces a tough challenge against NYCFC, a team it has lost to in all five previous matches. New York won 2-0 against Miami at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago. Inter Miami hopes for a different result Saturday. The DRV PNK Stadium field is bigger; and Miami has lost just once in its past nine home games.

“We need to make sure we maintain our form at home,” Neville said. “We’re now getting to the point in the season where every single game seems like a cup final, where you can’t afford to look too far ahead to the Toronto and Columbus games. You’ve got to take each game as it comes, and this is our next big challenge.”

Jean is doubtful for the game with a groin injury. Brek Shea might make his return after a long injury layoff. Forward Leo Campana, the team’s co-scoring leader, is out four to six weeks with a thigh injury. “Hoping it’s four rather than six and get him back for the last three or four games,” Neville said.

Inter Miami donated school supplies through the club’s third annual Back-to-School Bash on Thursday at Juan Pablo Duarte Park in Allapattah. Defender Kieran Gibbs helped distribute the bags. Defender Aimé Mabika and midfielder Jean Mota helped fill over 250 bags with the supplies.

“This is how I grew up, as one of these kids, and it feels like just yesterday,” Gibbs said. “It’s really important that the club interact with the community. Some kids don’t like going to school and need a little boost to get ready for the school year, I certainly needed that, so this is a great event.”