Inter Miami, desperate to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, continued to spiral downward, losing 4-0 on the road to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night.
It was Miami’s sixth loss in a row and fourth consecutive by shutout. Inter Miami has been outscored 16-1 during the losing skid and had only one shot on goal against the Crew.
Although they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, a post-season berth is getting farther and farther out of reach.
Miami remains in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, eight points shy of the final playoff spot with five games to go. The Crew is just ahead, in 10th place, three points from the playoff line.
“It’s mathematically not impossible still to qualify for the playoffs, but it’s going to be absolute mountain to climb for us,” said Miami coach Phil Neville. “I sit here as the manager, and we’ve got a lot of big questions and big decisions to make.”
Neville went on to say that he takes “full responsibility” for the recent skid.
“When a team loses, you’ve got to look at the manager first and look at the tactics, systems, players you pick, roster you built, and there’s no hiding place for me at this moment or for my staff or players,” Neville said. “I have to take responsibility. It’s my job to get this team better, to coach better, to make sure they are fit enough to play 90 minutes and to play the way I want to play. Those are the questions I have to ask myself and my staff because we have players who are not fit enough to compete 90 minutes.”
Neville said on Thursday that he and sporting director Chris Henderson plan to lower the age of the roster for next season and seek players who have speed and energy. “Maybe 15 years ago MLS was a retirement league, but now it is a young person’s league,” Neville said.
Inter Miami was holding its own for the first 27 minutes against the defending MLS champions, stringing together passes and getting into striking distance, but everything started to unravel in the 28th minute.
That’s when forward Robbie Robinson, who had just won a ball high, found himself nearly face to face with Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room. Instead of taking an easy shot, Robinson tried to make a move, tripped and couldn’t get a shot off.
“I felt the minute Robbie didn’t score that 1v1 the team lost all belief,” Neville said. “It really affected the team mentally. We came in at halftime (down 2-0) and I couldn’t actually believe it.”
Robinson’s missed opportunity encapsulated Miami’s struggles all season. No team in MLS has scored fewer goals than Miami – 25 goals in 29 games.
You could sense Miami players getting deflated after Robinson’s miss. Columbus, meanwhile, was playing with a lot of energy, and took the lead in the 39th minute when U.S. national team forward Gyasi Zardes leaped above Miami defenders in the box and knocked in a header.
Zardes scored again in the 64th minute on another header from the center of the box. Pedro Santos had the assist on both goals
Santos also scored a goal in the 44th minute when he was left unmarked in the box and left-footed a shot to the bottom left cover. The play began at midfield when Miami forward Gonzalo Higuain received a throw-in and tried to settle the ball, but Darlington Nagbe stole it and sent the Crew racing across the field in transition. Nagbe found Santos for the goal.
As if the night wasn’t going badly enough for Miami, the Crew went ahead 4-0 on a Leandro Gonzalez Pirez own goal in the 83rd minute. His attempted low clearance went through the legs of Miami goalkeeper Nick Marsman.
The dejected faces on Inter Miami’s faces in the closing minutes of the game said it all. Their frustrations were also evident in the five yellow cards they received.
“This is a very difficult moment for us,” said Federico Higuain, who came off the bench late to play against his former team. “It was a very important game, a game for the playoffs, and we didn’t show up. We didn’t play good football. Columbus was much better than us.”
The elder Higuain, a creative midfielder who has added spark off the bench, said he would like to play more, but will accept whatever role the coaches ask of him.
The Crew finished with 15 shots and five on goal. Miami took seven shots, but just one on frame.
Miami’s lack of scoring has been a recurring theme dating to last season. Thus far, this team has produced fewer goals. The 2020 team finished with 25 goals in 23 games. This season, Miami has the league’s fewest goals with 25 in 29 games. Higuain leads with 10, followed by Robinson (4) and Rodolfo Pizarro (3).
The last time the teams played, in Fort Lauderdale in mid-September, Miami won 1-0 on a goal by Gonzalo Higuain.
Midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro was left out of the Miami starting lineup and replaced by Indiana Vassilev. Pizarro did not play the entire game. Neville said he considered putting Pizarro in at 2-0, but at 3-0 he felt it best to let him rest for the upcoming games.
“I wanted goals on the pitch and I thought the games Indiana played he has created and had goal-scoring opportunities,” Neville said. “I wanted his freshness and disciplined role in possession and we took the decision to play Indiana, who I think has come on the past few games and been really bright and deserved the opportunity. It was just a selection decision by me, nothing personal.”
Nico Figal (calf), Victor Ulloa (thigh) and Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) were unavailable. Defender Christian Makoun returned from international duty with the Venezuelan national team, spending nearly a full day to get from Santiago, Chile, to Columbus.
Defender Sami Guediri, who grew up in Boca Raton, started for just the second time all season. He started at left wingback in place of Brek Shea, who came in as a sub midway through the second half.
Miami’s next two games are at home Wednesday against Toronto FC and Saturday against FC Cincinnati.