Inter Miami fought huge battles on two fronts, and won

Early Wednesday morning, Inter Miami took garnered a crucial three points at home against the Columbus Crew in a 2-1 win that keeps them alive in their hunt for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Gonzalo Higuain netted his 11th and 12th goals of the season, extending his lead as Miami’s top goal scorer this season, in a game that ended over four hours after kickoff following a 2.5-hour weather delay.

And that was only one of two major victories for the club. On Tuesday, Miami city commissioners finally approved a zoning plan that would see construction begin on the long-awaited Miami Freedom Park. Inter Miami, which now play in Broward, will finally come to the 305.

La Rosanegra (Inter’s colors) came into the Columbus game on a three-game losing streak, and desperately needed this win after losing a grip on a playoff spot. The Crew arrived unbeaten in the last seven games and sitting above Miami in the standings with five games to go, so this match had massive ramifications in the multi-team race for the playoffs.

The game was open from kickoff as chances were coming in bunches to both teams before Higuain slotted the ball off a swift Miami counterattack to give the Herons the lead in the 25th minute. Columbus further asserted themselves, following Miami’s goal, and in the 41st minute Crew right back Steven Moreira found Cucho Hernandez at the back post with a pinpoint cross that put them level with Miami just before halftime.

That halftime would last well over two hours.

“They didn’t want the game to be canceled, they did all they could to win that game of football,” Miami head coach Phil Neville said after a resilient win from his team.

He went on to emphasize that Inter Miami’s togetherness as a squad is their strength, and it gave the team the push it needed to close out the game following such a long break.

The second half was more of the same. End-to-end action. It looked like both teams came off a standard 15-minute halftime, rather than the 150 minutes they waited. A grueling night for both teams finally saw someone take the lead when Higuain fired in his second goal of the match, assisted by midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, and gave Miami the lead as he capped off another great performance, one of many he’s had this season.

He was more than happy to silence his doubters.

“Sometimes people forget what [I’ve] done and they only remember the [bad games],” Higuain said in Spanish. “If Pozuelo and I are playing well, we’re going to help the team move up.”

He went on to address Columbus center back Jonathan Mensah, who left the game injured just before halftime, and the Ghanian’s comments on his mentality.

“We won because of my two goals so I think we need to be careful with what we say prior to games,” Higuain said. “Because everything comes back around.”

It’s been his connection with Pozuelo, since the midfielder’s arrival from Toronto in July, that elevated Higuain’s form and he made note of his presence on the field taking a huge playmaking load off his back.

Miami would struggle to hold on to that lead when two big chances came Columbus’ way during the dying moments of the game. Crew winger Yah Yeboah hit the post with a curling shot in the 88th minute and, later, midfielder Lucas Zelarayan forced a massive save out Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender in the final 15 seconds of stoppage time. 

“Drake makes big saves in the big moments and he’s done that for us all season,” Neville said. “What I see in [Callender] is a keeper that can go right to the very top”

Following the win, Inter Miami jumped to 8th in the eastern conference. One spot below the final playoff spot, which is currently possessed by last night’s opponent: the Columbus Crew. Columbus has a two-point lead on Miami heading into the final four games of the season, but the Herons need to be wary of the teams below them picking up points as well as there is only a three-point difference between them and 10th-placed Atlanta United. Neville and his boys will be ready to take the race down to the final day. 

“We’ve got four cup finals to go,” Neville said. “And I firmly believe in our hands.”

As the Herons reach the home stretch of their regular season, on another front, they get closer to realizing the dream of their home stadium in Miami-Dade County. 

Shortly before kickoff, the Miami city commissioners finalized their vote on the proposed Miami Freedom Park, They voted 4-1 in favor of the zoning plan, with the sole no-vote coming from Commissioner Manolo Reyes. The site, currently home to the Melreese Golf Course, is a 58-acre plot next to Miami International Airport and with the commission vote being finalized last night, construction could start soon. 

This would see the golf course become a huge business hub in Miami featuring spaces for offices, hotels, retail villages and most importantly Inter Miami’s 25,000-seat home stadium. Miami’s ownership group led by David Beckham, Jorge and Jose Mas scored a huge victory in bringing Inter Miami home from Fort Lauderdale. 

Inter Miami next heads to the nation’s capital to face Wayne Rooney’s DC United on Sunday at 5 p.m. All hands will be on deck as they fight for three crucial points away from home, where they’ve struggled this season.

An interesting final four games lay ahead and with the Miami Freedom Park plan finally put in motion, these are exciting times for soccer in South Florida.

Alfredo Banegas is a junior at Florida International University majoring in digital journalism hoping to combine his passion of sports and writing to become a sports writer. Alfredo looks to make positive changes in the way sports are covered in today’s media landscape.