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Gonzalo Higuain pushes past emotional struggles to lead Inter Miami to vital win


Gonzalo Higuain has endured some difficult days as of late. The recent death of his mother has been weighing heavily on his mind, and the psychological impact from that devastating loss has affected him as much on the field as it has off.

A heart-to-heart conversation with Phil Neville helped to change the latter on Sunday.

Inter Miami picked up its second victory of the season on Sunday afternoon via a 3-2 road triumph over FC Cincinnati, and it was Higuain who made the difference. The star striker bagged a brace that included a late winner in the first game played at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, and his decisive showing in the match came just days after he and Neville had an open and honest talk about how the grieving striker was doing following the passing of Higuain’s mother last month.

“Gonzalo has been suffering,” said Neville. “If you have lost a parent, and I have, he has been suffering. I think you saw that in the last couple of games. It is easy to criticize professional footballers for their performance on the field without understanding what is going on in their personal life, what is going on in their mental state.

“When you lose someone as important as the mother was to Gonzalo and Federico, people handle it in different ways. He has been emotionally struggling …  I spoke to him on Thursday and Friday about how to deal with losing a parent. As a manager, you have got to have these conversations. It is not about football. You have got to help the player.”

The 33-year-old Argentine responded well to that talk. Not only did Higuain  promise Neville two goals against FC Cincinnati, but also in Inter Miami’s next two matches vs. the Chicago Fire and D.C. United.

The Designated Player began to make good on his word on Sunday, stepping up to score his third and fourth goals of the season. The goals came after a subpar individual outing for the South Florida side on Wednesday, something Higuain recognized on Sunday when mentioning the ugly 2-0 midweek loss to CF Montreal.

“The mind was clearly not at 100 percent on what I had to do, but after these last two games I knew I had to (make a change) otherwise this was going to continue and it would not benefit me or the team,” said Higuain. “I know that my mom from heaven would want me to play soccer, to be happy, and to score goals. I know she is watching me. She would not want me to be in a bad way for her.

“I spoke to the head coach and we had an important chat because I had given a bad image in the last game, but I am a human being,” Higuain said. “I am not a robot that can just go in and play soccer and do it well after what I lived through, but I had to help the team and myself to get out of that situation. Honestly, I am very happy with the two goals today. They are dedicated to her principally and to my family and my daughter, who are the support of this moment and my brother, who played, and the whole team.”

Higuain’s first goal vs. FC Cincinnati in the 38th minute, made possible by a nice back-heel pass from older brother Federico, also marked the veteran forward’s first goal from the run of play. Gonzalo entered Sunday having netted three times in MLS play since making his Inter Miami arrival last fall, but they came off a direct free kick, penalty, and header on a set piece.

More importantly, however, was his second finish. Inter Miami blew its 2-0 lead after halftime by giving up goals in the 59th and 82nd minutes, but Higuain donned the hero’s cape with another finish inside the penalty area in the 85th. He immediately let out a roar of excitement before entering a full embrace with his teammates.

“I feel all goals the same way,” said Higuain, who also celebrated each of his Sunday strikes by making an ‘AL’ gesture with his hands as a nod to his daughter Alma and wife Lara.

“All of them are important, be it from a penalty, free kick, or run of play.” Higuain said. “They all count as one goal and if they serve us to win, I more than welcome it. In this situation that I was living, I needed to deliver a good game, score a goal, have the team win, and luckily we had a good afternoon.”

Higuain did just that, delivering the type of performance that is expected of a DP and in the process helping Inter Miami restore some confidence after a poor mid-week showing.

“He promised me he was going to win the game for us and you take those comments with pinches of salt, but then the big players can do that,” said Neville. “Gonzalo is a big player for us. I was really, really pleased and proud of him today. I know it is a big moment for him and I am looking forward for him to go home. He has not seen his wife and his children for a long, long time.

“I am giving him the next couple of days off to relax with his family. He is going to be a big player for us, the big players stand up, and he has done that so far this season.”

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