Phil Neville has been encouraged by Inter Miami’s improvement of late but believes his team has merely made “baby steps” ahead of hosting in-form Nashville SC.
Since a 5-0 home defeat to the New England Revolution that piled the pressure on coach Neville, Inter has recovered with five points from three games.
Extending that short unbeaten run at home to Nashville will be no simple task, however, as the visitors are themselves undefeated in nine consecutive matches.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, we need to keep this run going, we need to keep building confidence and belief, we need to keep winning games of football,” Neville said ahead of Sunday’s match. “We’re just making baby steps, we’re improving slowly and we’re beginning to show the quality that I want from the team. That’s been the most pleasing thing but we’ve got many tough battles ahead of us.
“There’s great determination from every single player to play in every single game. I think when you start to get a little bit more belief and confidence, players don’t want to be rested or left out. So, I think I’ve got a team that’s hungry and every one of them wants to play. I’m really pleased with how the players are applying themselves, adapting themselves. The focus is there, so we are looking forward to the game.”
Nashville coach Gary Smith has likewise been impressed with his squad, which is coming off Wednesday’s goalless draw against New England and will be playing its third game in eight days.
“The management of three games in a short space of time is always difficult,” Smith said. “But we’ve now got a really competitive group.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Inter Miami – Rodolfo Pizarro
Pizarro returned to the fold from the bench against Orlando City in midweek and had a hand in Inter’s goal. Neville now needs more consistent contributions from the Mexico international.
Nashville SC – CJ Sapong
Nashville are solid at the back but tend to blow hot and cold in attack. However, Sapong has scored in each of their past three wins and will hope to be on target to inspire another victory.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Nashville SC is unbeaten in all four of its meetings with Inter Miami (W2 D2), including a 3-0 win in last season’s playoffs. Miami has not scored a goal in 360 minutes of play against Nashville.
– Inter Miami is unbeaten in three straight matches (W1 D2) following a six-match losing streak. Miami has never gone four straight matches without defeat in the club’s MLS history.
– Nashville SC’s scoreless draw against New England on Wednesday means it has lost just one of its first 17 matches this season (W6 D10). Nashville are the third team in MLS history with just one loss after 17 matches, along with the Timbers in 2013 and DC United in 2006.
– Kieran Gibbs scored Inter Miami’s lone goal against Orlando City on Wednesday, assisted by Victor Ulloa and Pizarro. It was the first Inter Miami goal not scored or assisted by Gonzalo Higuain since May 16.
– Joe Willis kept his MLS-leading eighth clean sheet of the season in Nashville’s scoreless draw with the Revs on Wednesday. Willis has 19 clean sheets since the start of last season, at least four more than any other goalkeeper in that time (Andre Blake – 15).