Major League Soccer

Rodolfo Pizarro must use first goal of 2021 to kickstart Inter Miami's season

Chris Smith
Pizarro scored his first goal of the season against the Chicago Fire.
Pizarro scored his first goal of the season against the Chicago Fire. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The irony of one of Inter Miami's first-ever DPs performing as dysfunctionally as the club that signed him is probably not lost on supporters.

Since joining the 2020 MLS expansion team from Monterrey for almost $12m, Rodolfo Pizarro has failed to light up the league as many had hoped.

Notching just five goals and five assists in 33 appearances for the Herons so far (and only one this season), the most striking thing hasn't been that Pizarro has been particularly 'bad'. Rather, he's put in far too many anonymous performances, drifting out of games and often barely seeing the ball at all.

But the Mexico international took a step in the right direction on Wednesday, scoring a 93rd-minute winner as Inter Miami came from 2-1 down to beat the Chicago Fire 3-2.

Not only did the goal almost lift the roof off DRV PNK Stadium, but it also showcased everything Pizarro can do well when in form; ethereal movement to get between opposing defenders unnoticed, supreme composure to take the ball under pressure and dazzling skill to curl the ball into the far corner.

So, could this be a turning point for Pizarro, rather than a mere snapshot in a sparsely populated highlights reel?

After the Chicago match, manager Phil Neville admitted Pizarro may have been unhappy in his surroundings to this point, but that those around him haven't stopped believing in him.

“Rodolfo won us the game and what we said in the dressing room after the game is that that boy suffered more than probably any other player in this football club in terms of not scoring, not assisting, probably not being totally 100 per cent happy with his form or his fitness or myself or whatever,” said Neville (via the Miami Herald). “But the team believes in him and I believe in him. I have never wavered on my belief for that boy, and his finish was world-class.”

Though he admitted he was suffering from a lack of confidence, Pizarro countered by insisting the happiness is returning to his game.

“I’m feeling very confident, I’m enjoying playing again. I’m happy and I think that’s the foundation for any player,” Pizarro said. “I had a month or two where I was lacking in confidence, not believing in myself. I feel I’ve worked really hard on that over the last three weeks, in believing in myself again, knowing who I am and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Phil Neville
How can Neville get the best out of Pizarro? / Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

With Neville hinting that Pizarro has been unhappy with him, it's important the Englishman plays to his DP's strengths from here on out. Especially given the Herons remain 12th in the Eastern Conference and eight points below the playoff line, despite Wednesday's important win.

The problem with Pizarro is he's a player that struggles when given distinct, rigid tactical roles. Defensively, the 27-year-old ranks down in 10th among Miami players for pressures per 90 minutes (20.5) this season, below fellow attackers Gonzalo Higuain and Robbie Robinson. He's also averaged just 1.46 tackles and 1.05 interceptions per 90. Winning the ball back, or even forming part of a coherent press, just isn't his strength.

And in possession, asking Pizarro to play as an out-and-out No.10 also causes a problem. Higuain is a player who loves to drop deep between the lines to connect, before surging into the box to gain momentum on defenders. But equally, Pizarro doesn't have a natural inclination to run beyond his Argentine teammate, often causing the two to occupy the same spaces on the pitch, congesting play. Neither does Pizarro have the pace to be a winger.

Instead, Pizarro is a player who needs accomodating. Putting the Mexican in a free role behind a main striker, with hard workers around him, allows Pizarro to do the sorts of things he did against Chicago. Things we've only otherwise seen to the fullest effect this season during Miami's 3-2 loss to the LA Galaxy on the opening day.

That day, Pizarro was given the freedom to drift horizontally across the pitch, setting up camp in the half-spaces where he could make quick, connecting passes or drive the ball inside at slower centre-backs.

The result was Pizarro completing a match-high four dribbles, while no player created more than his three chances on the day. The 34-time Mexico international also provided the pre-assist for Robinson's opener with a lovely lofted ball over the top of Higuain and won the penalty that ultimately put Miami 2-1 up on the day.

Though it's asking a lot for Neville to structure his side to accomodate one player, he himself has often illustrated how important Pizarro is to Inter Miami.

“He’s a big part, a big player in this football club," Neville said back in May.

Looking at Pizarro's most recent succsful spell, winning the 2018/19 Concacaf Champions League and 2019 Liga MX Apertura with Monterrey, he has history of turning his form around right when it matters most.

In the Champions League, he didn't make a single direct goal contribution until the semi-final before scoring once and providing two assists as Rayados thrashed Sporting Kansas City 10-2 on aggregate. Same goes with the Apertura, where Pizarro fired blanks all the way until scoring two goals in the final four matches of the campaign.

With the end of the regular season quickly approaching and the MLS Cup playoffs looming on the horizon, it's time for Neville to loosen Pizarro's shackles, freeing the Mexican to put in truly season-defining performances for Inter Miami.