Gonzalo Higuaín’s two goals, including game-winner, give Inter Miami victory over FC Cincinnati

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After 14 games in Major League Soccer, Gonzalo Higuaín finally scored the goal from the run of play that has eluded him.

And he did it twice for good measure.

Higuaín scored his first and second goals from the run of play since joining Inter Miami last season in the team’s 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati Sunday at TQL Stadium. He dedicated the goals to his mother, Nancy Zacarias, who died in late April.

“It was very difficult moment for me — even more difficult because of the relationship I had with her,” Higuaín said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I was in a really good place before. I scored against [the] LA [Galaxy] and [the] Philadelphia [Union] and then I had to suffer this news that hurt me a lot. When I came back for training, I wasn’t doing well because clearly, my head wasn’t 100 percent where it had to be.

“I knew my mom was watching me from heaven and that she would’ve wanted me to score, keep playing and move forward. I had a really good meeting with the coach and I told him obviously I’m a human being — I’m not a robot — but I knew I had to improve. These goals are for her. For my family, daughter, brother and those that are here.”

Higuaín’s second score on Sunday was a game-winner in the 85th minute to give Inter Miami their second win this year.

Two minutes after FC Cincinnati scored to tie the game at 2, Higuaín received the ball at midfield after it bounced off a Cincinnati defender and dribbled up the center of the park before sending a pass to Lewis Morgan on the right side of Cincinnati’s box.

Morgan sent a low cross through the box back to Higuaín, who one-timed it past Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer to give Inter Miami the one-goal lead and eventual victory.

Higuaín’s second goal on Sunday was his fourth score on the season across the five matches he’s played this year. He scored one goal in nine matches with Inter Miami in 2020.

“Gonzalo — he’s been suffering,” Inter Miami coach Phil Neville said. “You saw that in the last couple of games. It’s easy to criticize professional footballers for their performance on the field without understanding what’s going on in their personal life and mental state.

“I spoke to him about losing a parent. He was brilliant and really open. He promised me he was going to score two goals in every game of the next few games and win the game for us. You take those comments with pitches of salt, but the big players can do that and Gonzalo is a big player for us.”

Higuaín’s first score came in the 38th minute with an assist from his brother, Federico Higuain.

Gonzalo’s goal was set up by Sami Guediri, who was also making his first start for Inter Miami, crossing the ball to Federico, with the Argentine midfielder flicking the ball to Gonzalo inside Cincinnati’s box before he sent a left-footed shot by Vermeer to give Inter Miami a 2-0 halftime lead.

Federico, who has one goal and two assists in 2021, made his first start with Inter Miami on Sunday in place of Rodolfo Pizarro.

“Federico Higuaín has been one of our best players,” Neville said, “and deserved a chance to play [Sunday].”

Gonzalo hadn’t scored from the run of play in his previous 13 games with Inter Miami, with his three other goals with the club coming off set pieces or penalty kicks.

“Clearly, yes it feels special but for me,” Gonzalo said, “but every goal feels the same way. If it’s a free-kick, penalty [kick], run of play — the most important thing for me is to help the team.”

Brek Shea had the game’s first score seven minutes into the match with an assist from Gregore on a cross into Cincinnati’s box, with Shea knocking the ball into Cincinnati’s goal to give Inter Miami an early 1-0 lead.

Alvaro Barreal scored FC Cincinnati’s first goal in the 59th minute after an Inter Miami defensive breakdown to bring their deficit down to 2-1.

Nick Hagglund scored the equalizer for Cincinnati in the 82nd minute in a match that looked like it was going to end in a draw, but Gonzalo’s game-deciding goal gave Inter Miami their first victory in four matches and lifted Inter Miami’s road record to 2-0-1 after coming off what Neville called an “acceptable” 2-0 home loss to CF Montreal on Wednesday.

“Over the last three days, we’d had some big conversations about where we want to go, how we want to do it and how far we want to push,” Neville said. “Wednesday night was a real reality check and a big moment for us as a club where we decide which way we want to go: do we want to be average or really go for it and become a really good football team and a team that wants to go places?

“The players took brilliant responsibility. The big players stood up and won us the game.”

Inter Miami’s starting 11 against FC Cincinnati was: John McCarthy; Guediri, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Ryan Shawcross, Victor Ulloa; Gregore, Blaise Matuidi; Morgan, Federico Higuaín, Shea; Gonzalo Higuaín.

Christian Makoun, Pizarro, Jay Chapman, Josh Penn, Dylan Castanheria, Julain Carranza, Edison Azcona and Joevin Jones were the available subs.

Pizarro was used as a sub for the first time this season, coming on for Morgan in the 90th minute. Jones, Carranza, Chapman and Makoun also subbed in for Guediri, Federico, Shea and Gonzalo, respectively.

“What I wanted from Rodolfo was the same kind of influence when he came as what [Federico] had over the previous 4-5 games,” Neville said. “We got a squad of good players. Regardless of who you are or what your standing is on the team, we send out the best team to win the game. Rodolfo’s going to be a big player for us, I’m convinced of that.”

Sunday’s game was FC Cincinnati’s first game at TQL Stadium. They played home games at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati’s campus during their first two seasons in MLS. Two more MLS stadiums will be making their debuts this season: expansion club Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium on June 19 and the Columbus Crew’s New Crew Stadium on July 3.

Inter Miami (2-2-2, eight points) will match up against the winless Chicago Fire (0-4-1, one point) on Saturday at Soldier Field.

“The main focus for me over the next 6-8 months is building a culture, spirit and togetherness we can be proud of,” Neville said. “I’m super proud of them, but we also got a lot of work to [do]. I feel no different [Sunday] than what I did on Wednesday in terms of the amount of work that’s needed in this football club to keep driving to where we want to get to. There are great expectations on this football team. We need to accept and rise to that challenge. I hope we’re beginning to do that.”