Phil Neville is pleased to have defied expectations by guiding Inter Miami CF into the MLS Cup Playoffs and is now targeting home advantage with victory over CF Montreal.
Inter defeated in-state rivals Orlando City SC 4-1 on Wednesday to secure a post-season spot with one regular-season match, at home to Montreal on Sunday, remaining.
The Herons were not fancied by many on the back of a disappointing campaign last time out and a five-game winless run to start 2022.
It could get better for Inter, too, as victory against Montreal on Decision Day, coupled with defeat for New York City FC against Charlotte FC, will see them host a first-round tie.
Asked if people were justified in writing off his side earlier this season, Neville said: “I think that’s pretty fair, when you look at the performances of the last two years.
“I think you’d have been more silly tipping us to get in playoffs, right?
“I now want a home playoff. That’s what we’ve got to do. The sides that’ve been successful in the playoffs are the ones that play at home. That stacks heavily on our mind.”
Montreal have long been assured of a playoff berth, but top spot – and a bye to the Eastern Conference semi-final – is still up for grabs heading into this weekend.
They are one point behind leaders Philadelphia Union, who host Toronto FC, though history suggests finishing top of the East or indeed West is not necessarily a good thing.
However, speaking ahead of the match, head coach Wilfried Nancy said: “What would you do in my place? Finish in first place.
“After that, the circumstances and everything that happens, I’m not fan of that. If we have the pleasure of finishing first, why deprive ourselves of it?
“Imagine me saying to the guys, ‘finish second, and then we’ll see how it goes’. No, that’s not possible.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Inter Miami CF – Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain is enjoying a hot scoring streak right now, making this week’s announcement that he plans to retire at the end of the season all the more surprising. With two more goals against Orlando in midweek, the former Argentina international has now netted in five successive matches and has 14 in his past 12 outings.
CF Montreal – James Pantemis
Nancy’s side have kept successive clean sheets, a run in which they will be eager to extend heading into the playoffs. Pantemis made a couple of saves in the 1-0 win over D.C. United last time out for his fourth shutout of the campaign – all the more impressive when factoring in the fact he has played only 10 games.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Inter are unbeaten in their past two matches against Montreal (W1 D1) after losing each of the first three MLS meetings. Miami’s lone win over Montreal was a 2-1 victory the last time the teams met in Miami.
– After opening the season with one point from their first three home matches, Inter Miami have won 10 of their past 13 at DRV PNK Stadium (D2 L1), including the last four in a row. Since that run began on April 9, only LAFC (34) have collected more home points than Miami (32).
– Montreal’s win over D.C. United on Saturday was their 19th of the season, five more than they have ever had in a season. Montreal will also set single-season club records for points (62, 11 more than any previous season), goals (60, eight more than any previous season) and fewest losses (nine – previous record 11 in 2016).
– Higuain scored twice in Miami’s win over Orlando on Wednesday, his fifth straight game with agoal (seven goals in total). Entering the last regular season match of his career, Higuain can equal his longest run of league games with a goal in his career as he scored in six straight Serie A matches for Napoli in January-February 2016 and for Juventus in December 2016-January 2017.
– Montreal’s 1-0 win over D.C. United was their 19th victory of the season and 15th by a one-goal margin. Only New England Revolution (18) last season recorded more wins by one goal in a single season in MLS history.