Inter Miami coach Phil Neville has continued to campaign for the arrival of Lionel Messi to South Beach.
And if the World Cup winner does make the stateside switch, it’ll take better performances from Neville’s men than Saturday’s 1-0 loss to New York City FC to add to his trophy cabinet.
With a smattering of roughly 40 Miami fans situated above home plate at Yankee Stadium, both teams played a tightly contested first half and had offsides goals disallowed before Christopher McVey’s nightmarish own goal in the 36th minute gave New York City the decisive lead.
The David Beckham-owned club was fortunate not to concede another, but the performance was still an improvement on the 3-0 hammering that Miami received from NYCFC in the playoffs last year, as the hosts’ coach Nick Cushing acknowledged afterwards.
New York City player Santiago Rodriguez battles for the ball against Inter Miami midfielder Gregore
Lionel Messi has been continually linked to a move to Inter Miami
‘When [Neville] took this team I knew exactly the kind of direction that the team would go in,’ Cushing said of Miami, who have won two of their first three games.
‘And I knew the team he inherited wouldn’t be the team that he would end up creating.’
That team could soon include Messi, but Miami’s play at Yankee Stadium was largely antithetical to the kind of football that helped Messi and and La Albiceleste lift the trophy in Qatar, lacking both ruthlessness and defensive focus.
Josef Martinez failed to convert a pair of first-half chances, and with Neville recently saying Messi would be the ‘biggest signing in history,’ it’s hard not to imagine what those chances could’ve looked like coming from the Argentine’s left foot.
Neville, though, declined to let his imagination run wild after the game.
‘He played for PSG today, he’s a PSG player,’ he said when asked by DailyMail.com about the prospect of Messi joining, and if he viewed Miami’s games as a chance to impress the star.
‘I’m concerned about the players that we got here.’
Despite the result, it’s easy to see Messi fitting into the pink and black.
Draped in the club’s signature light pink, the small group of Miami fans bounced for much of the match as they sung in Spanish, though you’d expect the chants to be much louder back at home.
Inter Miami forward Nicolas Stefanelli (22) battles for the ball against New York City FC player James Sands
Messi would find a South American contingent on the field as well.
Fellow Argentines Nicolas Stefanelli and Franco Negri slotted into the starting lineup Saturday, while the Brazilian midfielder Jean Mota got the nod as well.
Messi may also recognize the Venezuelan Martinez – one of the most prolific strikers in MLS history – from CONMEBOL qualifying.
The PSG’s star’s mind may well be made up already, as an anonymous source told The Athletic this week that a deal for him ‘was all but done’, but Saturday showed where Miami can sharpen up – especially if he arrives.
After McVey’s badly failed clearance went into his own net, the visitors were fortunate not to concede again.
Midfielder Keaton Parks missed a point-blank chance in the 55th minute, before supplying Santi Rodriguez for an eventual saved shot six minutes later.
That came after a Parks ball over the top to Rodriguez froze the defense in the 17th minute before the chance was squandered, while left-back Braian Cufre also had a shot palmed over towards the end of the game.
These would be problems for any coach and any team, but especially so for one courting Messi – a hugely gifted player, who doesn’t play much defense nowadays.
NYCFC forward Talles Magno battles for the ball against Inter Miami’s Christopher McVey
Nonetheless, a bit of perspective is worthwhile.
While it was the home fans singing ‘come on New York’ as the final whistle neared, it’s Miami – who have conceded just one goals in three games – who are above them in the standings after slaying the East’s top two teams from last regular season (Philadelphia and Montreal).
Neville cast a disappointed figure after the game, but his outlook wasn’t too pessimistic.
‘Can’t fault the effort from the players,’ he said. ‘We’re just looking for that little bit of extra quality now in the final third.
If he gets his wish, it will be much more than a little.