Leo Campana leads Inter Miami to 2-1 win over Portland, gets called up to Ecuador team

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

When Leo Campana left the English Premier League and signed with Inter Miami in January, he had three objectives: score goals, get noticed by Ecuadorean national team coach Gustavo Alfaro, and make Ecuador’s roster for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

He can check two off his list.

Campana scored his seventh MLS goal of the season Saturday night to lead Miami to a 2-1 home win over the Portland Timbers and on the same night was named by Alfaro to the Ecuadorean national team for three upcoming matches – including a June 11 friendly against Cape Verde at DRV PNK Stadium.

Campana is tied for third-most goals in the league and has eight total counting a U.S. Open Cup goal. If he continues this form, he has a good chance of making Ecuador’s World Cup team.

His goal against the Timbers Saturday was a perfectly placed head flick off a left-footed cross from Christopher McVey in the 27th minute.

“I feel really proud, first of all because Inter Miami is going in the right path; and individually, it’s very important for a striker to score and this wouldn’t be possible without my teammates and I’m very grateful for them,” Campana said. “As for my call up, it’s a pleasure and honor to represent your national team. I’ve worked really hard to be called up, so I’m really happy.”

Alfaro was in Fort Lauderdale a few weeks ago, watched Campana train, and met with Inter Miami coach Phil Neville and sporting director Chris Henderson.

“(Alfaro) loves the kid, when you meet Leo you fall in love with him because his personality, his nature, he’s the politest most humble boy,” Neville said. “He’s obviously been brought up the right way and he’s scoring goals. He’s highly thought of and there’s so much growth left in him.”

Campana, 21, was struggling to break into the lineup with Wolves of the Premier League and had been loaned to Swiss team Grasshopper. He said he finally found the right team, where he can get minutes, score goals, and make an impact.

“I had two really rough years, but I told my father I wouldn’t change it for anything. I grew as a person. I learned a lot in Europe,” Campana said. “And right now, coming here, having the confidence of the coach, the owners, the players, it’s amazing. I’ve worked really hard my whole life for this moment. I know I haven’t achieved anything, but I work had every day to put Inter Miami and my country where it belongs.”

He admitted he was not happy being taken out of the game in the 63rd minute, but said he was not mad at Neville, just frustrated that he wouldn’t be able to contribute more goals.

Robert Taylor scored Miami’s second goal in the 59th minute, pouncing on the rebound when Ariel Lassiter’s shot ricocheted off the post. It appeared Miami was cruising to victory holding a 2-0 lead late in the game, but the team’s level dropped after Neville made a handful of substitutions.

Some Miami players were caught napping on a Portland corner kick in the 78th minute and Bill Tuiloma took advantage, knocking in a header to make it 2-1. A few minutes later, Gonzalo Higuain, who replaced Campana, lost the ball high up the field, the Timbers countered and nearly scored an equalizer, but it clanked off the crossbar.

Inter Miami extended its home unbeaten streak to six – four league games and two U.S. Open Cup victories.

While Miami players celebrated in the locker room, Neville lamented that the win nearly slipped away with late-game mistakes. He took some of the blame, saying his substitutions did not work out as he had hoped.

“I feel a little bit half-disappointed with how the last 15 minutes went, but I’m proud of their efforts the first third of the season,” Neville said. “We had a real poor start, had to take some criticism, new team and we had to battle through the storm. Then we gained confidence, victories, culture and (Saturday) was a massive game for us, probably our biggest of the season.”

The team heads into a 16-day FIFA international break in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, on the playoff line. A few weeks ago, Miami was languishing in 13th place.

“I see us as a playoff team and this game was that step to the playoffs,” Neville said. “It was a pivotal moment. We had to dig in. They have this great quality that they actually quite like each other.”

Stormy weather delayed the start of the game by 20 minutes and likely scared away some fans, but the 11,161 who showed up witnessed one of Inter Miami’s best performances of the season. The team played with cohesion, composure and creativity that was lacking earlier in the year. Miami completed 90 percent of its passes in the first half, and dominated possession 61 percent to 39 percent.

Although Portland had to travel across the country for the match, the Timbers came in with fresher legs as Miami played a 131-minute U.S. Open Cup match at Orlando three nights earlier. Orlando won the penalty kick shootout 4-2 to eliminate Miami from the tournament.

Forward Robbie Robinson was back in the Inter Miami starting lineup Saturday night after missing the Orlando game due to a red-card suspension. He had some good moments against the Timbers, but his shift was cut short as he left the game with a leg injury in the 43rd minute, the latest in a string of injuries that have plagued him over the past year.

Asked about the severity of Robinson’s injury, Neville said: “Robbie’s OK.”

Miami’s next game is June 19 at Atlanta United and the next home game is June 25 against Minnesota.

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