Toronto FC has been eliminated from playoff contention while Inter Miami is still alive — barely — and determined to stop a six-game skid when the teams meet in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday night.
Although the postseason is out of reach for the Canadian visitors, they have plenty of reason to be motivated. The last time they played, in Toronto on Sept. 14, Inter Miami escaped with a dramatic, controversial 1-0 victory on a Christian Makoun penalty kick in stoppage time.
Miami coach Phil Neville called it “one of our worst performances” and conceded that “we got away with that one.” Luck was on Miami’s side that night.
An apparent goal by Toronto’s Jacob Shaffelburg in the 87th minute was waved off because cameras could not conclusively prove the ball crossed the line before Miami goalkeeper Nick Marsman cleared it. Early in the game, a red card to Miami captain Gregore was reversed due to an offside call on a Toronto player.
Toronto dominated most of the night, despite playing with 10 men after a 37th-minute ejection, but Inter Miami came out the victor and extended its unbeaten streak to six games. Miami’s good fortune ended that night. Neville’s team has lost six in a row since that game and been outscored 16-1 during the slide.
Although Miami’s playoff chances are slim, there is still a chance. The team is in 11th place, nine points shy of the final playoff spot with five games remaining.
Neville opened Monday’s practice with a pep talk to his players as they prepared for their first home game in a month.
“He told us to just keep going, we are still mathematically in there so we gotta keep pushing till the end,” said defender Sami Guediri. “We’ve been away from home for a while now, so everyone is super excited to get back in front of the fans and work hard. We can’t wait to put on a good performance.”
Inter Miami beat Toronto 3-1 at home on Aug. 21 with two goals by Rodolfo Pizarro and one by Robbie Robinson. Neither player has scored since, so both will be eager to find the back of the net on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., My33, CW34).
Miami is expected to be without defenders Nico Figal and Kieran Gibbs, and midfielder Victor Ulloa, all of whom are injured. Toronto’s Brazilian fullback Auro is suspended after getting a red card in the previous game against Atlanta, but the club made a formal request to the league, asking that it be rescinded.
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, the 17-year-old Canadian forward, will likely start against Miami in place of injured Ifunanyachi Achara.
Miami is coming off a 4-0 road loss to the Columbus Crew, the fourth straight game Miami was held scoreless.
“I think you get moments like this when the goals are just not going in, you’re not quite jelling, missing chances, losing confidence, losing belief,” Neville said. “But we still made four individual errors for goals conceded and that to me is a bigger crime than once chance missed [Robinson’s miss]. That was my biggest disappointment, the individual errors.”
Neville said the defensive gaffes sapped confidence from the entire team.
“That kills all momentum, kills all belief and that kills your forward play,” he said. “That kills the belief of the strikers and the flair players when you concede goals. If we go in at halftime nil-nil, the mood of the team would have been totally different. The mood of the forwards would have been, `We’re still in this game. We’re still going to get chances.’ When you go in at 2-nil down, there is a feeling from a forward’s mentality that this is going to be a mountain to climb.”
Toronto sits two spots below Miami in the Eastern Conference standings, but Neville expects a tough game. Toronto’s Spanish playmaker, Alejandro Pozuelo, is the reigning MLS MVP. He missed much of this season with a leg injury but returned to the lineup last week.
“I look at Toronto’s roster and I see lots of talented players,” Neville said. “I watched the Canadian national team and I see a team getting better and better and some of those players are on the Toronto team. Their roster is too good to be at the bottom of the league. Pozuelo is one of the best 10s we’ve played. It will be a big task for us. On their day they can challenge anyone.”
Fans are asked to wear pink to DRV PNK Stadium on Wednesday as part of the club’s drive out cancer initiative.