David Beckham’s Inter Miami saw their Major League Soccer play-off hopes destroyed Friday, as fellow newcomers Nashville 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.
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.
“Toronto are a top side with a lot of experience but we’ll have a plan and make life difficult for them,” Smith said.
Elsewhere, Gustavo Bou scored the stoppage time winner in New England’s 2-1 victory over Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact.
The Revolution booked a date with the Philadelphia Union, winners of the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the best regular-season record.
It was a sorry end to a difficult first campaign for the Miami 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 they tested positive for Covid-19.
Losing such important performers was a hammer blow for Inter Miami coach Diego Alonso, who has won just seven matches from 23 in the pandemic-disrupted regular season.
But Alonso was not looking for excuses.
“We knew the difficulties we were facing missing some players,” 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.”
With Higuain missing, the pressure was on Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro to be 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 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 impressive side firmly in control.
From that point, they never looked back and McCarty sealed the deal with a well-taken strike on 56 minutes.
There was more drama in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where a hard-fought contest appeared headed for extra-time after Montreal’s Romell Quioto equalized to cancel out the Revs’ first-half opener from Carles Gil.
New England laid siege to the Montreal goal in the final frantic minutes, forcing Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop into a string of fine saves as the tension mounted.
Diop produced a superb diving save to tip Matt Polster’s header onto the post in the 92nd minute and it looked as if Montreal had done enough to force extra time.
But in the dying seconds of the fifth minute of stoppage time, New England left back DeJuan Jones squared to Bou on the edge of the Montreal penalty area.
The Impact defence backed off, and the 30-year-old former Racing player took a touch before thumping a low shot past the despairing Diop into the bottom corner from 25 yards.
It was a disappointing end to a first season in charge of Montreal for Henry, the former France, Arsenal and Barcelona superstar.