Phil Neville has compared Inter Miami’s trip to New York Red Bulls on Saturday to a ‘cup final’, such is the close nature of the Eastern Conference table.
Just 10 points separate Neville’s side in 11th from the Philadelphia Union in third heading into the final seven games. What’s more, the Herons are only eight points adrift of CF Montreal in the seventh and final playoff spot, with a game in hand.
The Red Bulls are two points and two places better off than Miami heading into this weekend’s clash in New Jersey. Speaking to reporters in his pre-game press conference (via MLSsoccer.com), Neville stressed the importance of this match as a potentially defining moment in the playoff race.
“You think to yourself: If either team wins this game, I think the team that wins will think ‘we can make the playoffs,'” said Neville. “The team that loses have got a mountain to climb. So, it’s almost like a cup final, that’s the way I’m seeing it. Whoever wins this game in hand will probably get the impetus to go on and give it a go to get in the playoffs and I think that’s what makes Saturday’s game so good.”
The last time these two sides met in Fort Lauderdale less than a month ago, the Red Bulls thrashed Miami 4-0, kick-starting the current four-match losing streak Neville’s side are enduring.
Neville knows he cannot afford a repeat of that result. The former England international believes his side need at least five wins and a draw from their final seven games and has called upon his biggest stars – Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro – to deliver.
“We’ve got seven games, we need to win five and maybe draw one, to get to where I believe we should be or I believe we want to be,” Neville added. “We’ve got to make sure that we believe we can do that. We’ve got the talent to do that, we’ve been on runs this season where we can easily achieve this. Now it’s about belief. Belief that we can achieve what we want to achieve, and to do that we’re going to have to sacrifice, we’re going to have to do something that this football club’s never done before probably, and that’s go on an incredible run.
“The biggest thing from now until the season of the season, if our front players perform, we will get in the playoffs. It’s as simple as that. I make no bones or apologies for that, we need our front players to perform, we need them to be ruthless, we need them to score goals, create chances.”
The Eastern Conference playoff picture might be just a little bit clearer come the final whistle at Red Bull Arena.