The fans danced, sang and set off pink smoke bombs as Latin music blasted through the DRV PNK Stadium loudspeakers late Saturday night. On the field, Inter Miami players hugged, high-fived, ran over to the north stands to applaud their diehard fans (nicknamed “La Familia”) and then ran to the sidelines to celebrate with their actual families.
Inter Miami had just beaten CF Montreal 2-1, the team’s first win at home all season and first win since mid-May. Gonzalo Higuain, who scored both goals, shared a long hug with his weeping father, who was visiting from Argentina, and then he pointed up to the sky – a gesture to his mother, Nancy, who died of cancer in late-April.
During his post-game press conference, Higuain teared up and said he saw visions of his mother after scoring each goal.
“To score goals is what I love most to do, especially when it helps the team win,” Higuain said. “After the goals I felt a very strange sensation. I saw images of my mother in my head. I know she is watching me and my brother (Federico) from above and I told that to my family. My father was here with my wife and kids. The goals were for them, too, because they are always supporting me, and especially for my Mom.”
He said it was an especially emotional night for his father.
“Our Dad was crying because we all wished that she could have been here seeing it, but I know from above she sends us signals and the game was for her,” Higuain said. “I know this will make her very happy.”
Inter Miami hosted a pre-game tailgate party for its most ardent fans before the game, a thank you for the fans’ unwavering support through thick and thin (and thinner) over the past year and a half.
Co-owners David Beckham, Jorge and Jose Mas mingled with the supporters. And then the team gave them the biggest thank-you gift: its first victory in eight matches.
On a night the club was honoring “La Familia” it seemed appropriate that Miami’s tying goal came from the Hermanos Higuain. Older brother Federico drew a foul in the box in the 49th minute and younger brother Gonzalo put away the penalty kick.
Twenty minutes later, Gonzalo Higuain struck again for the winning goal. Gregore and Robbie Robinson closed in to steal the ball from a Montreal defender near the top of the box and Higuain pounced on it and fired a powerful shot that got past goalkeeper James Pantemis.
The younger Higuain has scored seven of Miami’s 12 goals this season and has two assists. But it has not been an easy season for him. Off the field, he has been dealing with the loss of his mother. On the field, he has been trying to get in peak fitness and to live up to the massive expectations that followed him from Italian giant Juventus.
“I have been on a fitness plan, and I feel better, I’m still not 100 percent, but I am trying my best to get there,” he said. “My whole career I have dealt with expectations from fans and from myself. I scored more than 300 goals and the fans expect me to score goals. That’s normal. They expect me to score every game. I like the pressure. When you win, the fans are happy. When you lose they’re in a bad mood. That’s football.”
Neville said Gonzalo Higuain gained confidence after the first goal. “After that, he was brilliant. He’s playing like a DP (Designated Player), assists, winning goals, you can’t ask for anything more. Three months ago, he told me, `I will give you more.’ And he is.”
Inter Miami entered the game winless through the previous seven games and had been outscored 14-2 during that stretch. The team’s last victory was 3-2 over Cincinnati FC on May 16.
After a humiliating 5-0 home loss to New England, Miami has turned things around and played with more purpose and cohesion.
“I am immensely proud of the performance,” said Miami coach Phil Neville. “Montreal whipped our backsides the other two times we played and tonight we knew we had to take a few punches, and we did, and didn’t waver once.”
Montreal took a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute on a goal by Joaquin Torres, who scored on a rebound off the glove of Miami keeper Nick Marsman.
“The first half, aside from their goal, we dominated the game, we needed to finish with more conviction, but we had a feeling that we could win,” said Gonzalo Higuain. “Now there’s a positive energy on the team.”
Neville said the team “won the game Friday at training,” praising the effort and leadership of Blaise Matuidi, who was left out of the starting lineup the past two games, and defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
“Leandro and Blaise were sensational at training,” Neville said. “Blaise showed why he’s a World Cup winner with his attitude to drive the team forward. Winning is a byproduct of attitude, effort, togetherness and spirit and we’ve shown that from the minute we lost to New England. We had our backs against the wall and we’ve responded in a way that makes me really proud.”
But Neville reminded his locker room that the team, still in last place in the standings, has a long way to go to get into the playoff picture.
“We’ve achieved nothing yet,” he said. “We got our first home win. We got four points in the last two games. It’s a start. It’s not even worth celebrating. The only thing I told the players in the end is we have to go celebrate with the fans because they have suffered. There have been times we have been shy to go thank them because we’ve been embarrassed with our performance. Tonight we gave them something to go home and celebrate.”
Midfielder Lewis Morgan added: “Our fans got what they deserved. It was our small way of giving back to them for sticking with us through lightning, rain, losses, through everything.”
Gonzalez Pirez got his league-leading eighth yellow card in the 54th minute, which means he will be suspended for Wednesday’s game at Orlando City due to accumulation of cards.
Center back Ryan Shawcross missed the game Saturday due to a back spasm. The team was also without midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, who is with the Mexican national team and will play against the United States Sunday night in the Gold Cup final in Las Vegas.
Note: Matias Pellegrini has gone back to Estudiantes de la Plata on a one-year loan, according to the Argentine club and Pellegrini’s Instagram account, where he posted a farewell to Inter Miami.
“Thank you Inter Miami, thank you to my teammates, coaching staff, medical staff, trainers, staff and everyone who works in the club for the year and a half we had together,” Pellegrini posted. “I have learned a lot and enjoyed it a lot. Also thanks to the fans for the constant support. We will meet again.”
Pellegrini was the first player signed by Inter Miami in July 2019 and the club paid Estudiantes a transfer fee reported to be between $6 million and $9 million. He played 19 games for Miami and scored one goal. In April 2021, Inter Miami bought out his contract and temporarily loaned him to Ft. Lauderdale CF, the club’s USL affiliate, to become MLS roster compliant.