“It’s fun,” was the quick response from Robert Taylor when asked about all the extra eyes and attention trained on him and his Inter Miami teammates since the arrival of Lionel Messi in July. “The more eyes on you the better as a player.”
“Every footballer wants to play in front of as many fans as possible,” added the 28-year-old midfielder, who’s caught the eye in a big way in recent weeks. “At home, our crowds are incredible and when we go out on the road the stadiums are all sold out. That’s a really fun thing.”
Taylor’s form has surged since the arrival of Messi and his former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. Before that, he was accustomed to small crowds when Inter Miami struggled to reach the Semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup and languished in last place in MLS’ standings in the first half of the 2023 season.
It’s hard to overstate just how irrelevant Inter Miami were in any discussion of the top teams in the league before everything – all at once – turned on its ear.
The Messi Effect
“As soon as we got the new signings, everyone’s level has gone up and mine too,” said the player, who’s demonstrated a knack for scoring spectacular goals as well as setting up his teammates from wide positions. “It can always be better but at the moment we’re all looking strong. For me it’s always fun to score goals and get assists and win games – that’s what we all play for.”
Taylor first went from anonymous journeyman to headline grabber in the 2023 Leagues Cup, which Inter Miami won in August thanks to the introduction of their trio of global superstars. His four goals in five matches had casual viewers and journalists scrambling to find out more about the Finnish international.
“The mentality we have right now is that we can beat everyone,” said Taylor, who, just a few years ago, was playing non-league ball in England’s tenth tier. “We go into a game with the mindset that they don’t want to play against us. That’s been really really good.”
Taylor has become a crucial part of this new-look Inter Miami outfit, now much-feared in the league and playing for a second trophy this Wednesday against Houston Dynamo in the 2023 Open Cup Final.
No Nerves on Cup Final Eve
“The main feeling is excitement,” Taylor said about the Final, his second time going for a trophy in the space of a little over a month. “We’re all excited to play another Final. The nerves will be there but I think we’ll be more ready because of the experience we had in the Leagues Cup.
“We’re all way more excited than nervous like we were last time,” he added.
The penultimate stage of this Open Cup was a big hill to climb for Inter Miami. They were on the road against FC Cincinnati, MLS’ top team during this regular season. They came back from a two-goal deficit to tie 3-3 after extra time and eventually won out by the odd goal in a penalty shootout.
“We just showed everyone again that we can come back from any situation,” Taylor said of that game in which the talisman Messi set up two goals to spark the fightback. “We were down 2-0 and we never gave up and we ended up winning the game. That shows the kind of character we have.”
He expects a similar kind of resistance from Ben Olsen’s Houston Dynamo in the Open Cup Final.
Dynamo Primed & Ready
“I think it will be a good game,” Taylor said. “We’ve seen them and they are a really good team. At times we’ll be forced to defend. To be compact. They’re a skillful team. We can score goals – that’s not been an issue. Defending will be a big part of this game.”
But as you’d expect from a man who likes center-stage – and has known little of it for most of his career – Taylor is amped to be playing this Final on home soil in Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s huge to play the Final at home,” he said, enthusiasm buzzing through the phone line ahead of another chance to soak up the spotlight. “It’s amazing for the supporters and for everyone who’s gonna be around the stadium and around Miami.”
“These home fans will give us more energy.”
Maduro is a senior reporter at large for usopencup.com.