Inter Miami CF picked up their first points of the season with 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at Subaru Park thanks to the Higuaín brothers both scoring late goals.
Gonzalo and Federico Higuaín scored in the 73rd and 83rd minutes, respectively, to secure the comeback win against the Union (0-1-1, one point) for Inter Miami’s first victory under new coach Phil Neville.
The scores by the Higuaíns made them the first pair of brothers in MLS history to net goals in the same game.
Here are three takeaways from the match:
Federico flips game
The elder Higuaín’s presence on the field changed the complexion of Saturday’s game.
Federico, who subbed in for Rodolfo Pizarro in the 62nd minute, gave Inter Miami (1-1-0, three points) a different dimension at the No. 10 spot with quicker decision-making compared to Pizarro.
His swift and accurate passes — he finished the match with an 86.36 percent passing percentage, which was the second-best on the team from the field players — helped open up the field more for an Inter Miami team that had a difficult time breaking Philadelphia’s press throughout the match but especially in the second half.
Three of Inter Miami’s four shot attempts in the second half came after Federico entered the game.
“He deserves to be talked about in his own right,” Neville said of Federico. “He brings a calmness to training, a calmness to Gonzalo and a calmness to the whole team. When everyone else is running around at 100 mph, he just seems to give the team confidence and composure.”
Federico’s assist off a free kick to his brother to give Inter Miami their first score and his game-winning goal off an assist from Nico Figal will understandably get most of the attention from Saturday, but he’s showcased his ability to settle the team at the center of its attack through Inter Miami’s first two games, which should help him be a mainstay in their rotation for 2021.
Figal’s two-way impact
Speaking of Figal, his impact on both sides of the field helped ensure Inter Miami left Chester, Pa. with three points instead of one or none.
While he could be blamed for not marking up Jamiro Monteiro when he netted a goal in the 53rd minute from the middle of Inter Miami’s box for the Union’s lone goal, Figal along with Inter Miami’s entire defensive unit limited Philadelphia from having many attacking opportunities. The Union only had three shots on target despite recording 13 shots overall for the match.
Once Figal moved to right back after Victor Ulloa and Ryan Shawcross subbed in for Kelvin Leerdam and Blaise Matuidi — with Shawcross taking Figal’s spot as the center back on the right — he helped give Inter Miami their best moments during the run of play in the second half.
Figal had a timely run into space and quality cut back against a Union defender once he received the pass from Lewis Morgan on the outskirts of Philadelphia’s box, sending an accurate cross to Federico for the game-deciding goal.
He helped give Gonzalo his best scoring opportunity from the run of play of the evening a few minutes later with another superb cross into the Union’s box, with 2020 Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake having to fully extend his body to prevent Gonzalo from getting his second goal of the evening and giving Inter Miami a two-goal lead.
“We know the quality of Nico at right back,” Neville said. “So I didn’t see it as a defensive substitution because I was putting Victor and [Shawcross] on, who were full of energy. It was a positive substitution to try to win.
“Nico’s been outstanding from Day One. He’s a warrior. You can play him at center back [or] you can put him at right back — he will just give everything for the team.”
If there’s one thing Inter Miami will need to fix before their matchup against Nashville SC next Sunday at Nissan Stadium, it’s setting up Gonzalo in better scoring opportunities inside the opposing team’s box.
He may have two goals through Inter Miami’s first two games, but the score in the season opener versus the LA Galaxy came off a penalty kick while his goal against Philadelphia came off a free kick — meaning he’s yet to score during the run of play since joining Inter Miami last season.
Gonzalo could help matters by consistently staying higher up on the field, with Neville saying throughout the preseason he wants the Argentine forward to be in the box to take advantage of crosses and stray balls when they arrive.
He’s showed the tendency to drop back in Inter Miami’s formation to get involved in the offense’s build-up, but he oftentimes stays too deep and doesn’t get as forward as he could — giving the team one less way to attack.
Inter Miami’s midfielders and wingers have to do a better job of providing Gonzalo service and finding him in those dangerous areas — like Figal did towards the end of the game against the Union — so all parties have areas to improve at.