David Beckham’s Inter Miami saw their Major League Soccer play-off hopes destroyed as fellow newcomers Nashville deservedly sealed a place in the next round with a resounding 3-0 triumph at Nissan Stadium.
Nashville were in control after an early wonder goal from Randall Leal before a penalty from Hany Mukhtar and a second-half Dax McCarty effort helped the team from Music City hit all the right notes as Miami were easily dispatched.
Gary Smith’s team, who were great value for this triumph in the first ever post-season game to feature two expansion clubs, face Toronto next Tuesday for a place in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
“It was a fabulous performance,” Smith said. “Toronto are a top side with a lot of experience but we’ll have a plan and make life difficult for them.”
It was a sorry end to a difficult first campaign for the team co-owned by former England captain Beckham, who were forced to take the field without star striker Gonzalo Higuain and key defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez after the Argentine pair, as well as Higuain’s older brother Federico, tested positive for Covid-19 and didn’t travel.
Losing such important performers was a hammer blow for Inter Miami coach Diego Alonso, who needed all the help available to him after winning just seven matches from 23 in the pandemic-disrupted regular season.
The Uruguayan now has to plan for the 2021 campaign and will need to mount a better showing than this inaugural effort.
Miami coach Alonso refused to use the absence of two of his best players as a reason for the defeat.
“We knew the difficulties we were facing missing some players but it’s not an excuse,” he said. “The last two weeks have been complex and complicated because it was tough for us to train. I didn’t make excuses ahead of the game and I am not going to make them now.
“But we feel hurt for losing and ashamed for our fans because we couldn’t get the win. They have been here for us during a very difficult year.”
With the younger Higuain missing, the pressure was on Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro to become the creative spark for Inter, but it was Nashville’s Costa Rican forward Leal who stole the show early on with a wonderful 14th minute opener.
He picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and sent an unstoppable shot flying past John McCarthy and when the Miami keeper was somewhat harshly adjudged to have brought down Mukhtar in the area on 23 minutes, the visiting team were suddenly in very deep trouble.
The German dusted himself down and coolly scored the resulting penalty to put Smith’s side firmly in control and from that point, they never looked back.
McCarty’s well-taken strike on 56 minutes sealed the deal and ensured Nashville became the first debut MLS franchise to advance in the playoffs for 22 years.
Miami defender A.J. DeLaGarza said he hoped fans of the fledgling franchise would stick with the club after a tough 2020 that “wasn’t a normal year.”
“I don’t want to make excuses, we weren’t good enough and not prepared well enough,” he said.
“Communication has to be better. Too many guys don’t speak Spanish, too many don’t speak English and that leads to not communicating on the field.”
The complications of the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t helped, he added.
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