Gonzalo Higuain had an eventful home debut for Inter Miami against New York City FC on Saturday night, but Miami lost 3-2 and the $7 million Argentine forward remains goalless and winless in two games with his new team.
The skies unloaded a driving rainstorm onto the Fort Lauderdale stadium late in the game, leaving the Inter Miami players drenched and demoralized as they left the field.
To make matters worse, coach Diego Alonso confirmed after the game that they will lose midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro for the next “four or five games” as he travels to Netherlands to play two friendlies with the Mexican national team. Per MLS rules, Pizarro must quarantine for 10 days upon his return, so he is likely to miss five or six games.
“Rodolfo is going, we couldn’t keep him,” Alonso said. “I am not in agreement, but we have to accept it.”
The mood of the team was grim following the loss.
A pair of nice-looking first-half goals from Scottish right winger Lewis Morgan, one of them assisted by Higuain, were overshadowed by sluggish defense at critical moments and it wound up costing Miami the game. Higuain was involved in several potential scoring chances, but was closely-covered all night and unable to find the back of the net.
Late-sub Julian Carranza appeared to score the equalizer for Inter Miami in the 85th minute when he knocked in a low cross from Higuain. The players celebrated, and loud music blared over the loudspeakers. But video replay showed Carranza was off-side, so the goal was disallowed.
Inter Miami dropped to 3-10-2 and failed to gain any ground on a potential playoff push with eight games remaining in the regular season. They have 11 points and are six points away from the final playoff spot.
Morgan, who with four goals on the season is the team’s leading scorer, said his two goals were rendered meaningless by the team’s mistakes.
“At the moment, I don’t really care about them much, to be honest,” he said of the goals. “I would much rather not score and get three points. Something we highlighted before the game, when we do score we’re conceding goals within the next five or 10 minutes, which is something we can’t do. We can’t give away the goals we’re giving and expect to win games. That’s something we need to look at.”
Midfielder Blaise Matuidi agreed.
“We seem to be making costly mistakes, and we are in a difficult moment,” said Matuidi, who was Higuain’s teammate at Juventus and joined the team in August. “This game showed us there is hope, we can get it turned around, but it is difficult to accept…It seems when we give up that many goals, there is a concentration issue and our confidence seems to dip.”
Miami fell behind in the fourth minute, when its back line was caught sleeping. After a New York free kick, NYCFC’s Finnish captain Alexander Ring lofted a long pass over the heads of the Miami defenders, and connected with Romanian midfielder Alexandru Mitrita, who knocked in a close-range shot past Miami goalkeeper Luis Robles.
It was the third game in a row the team conceded an early goal and the Miami has given up 10 goals in those games after having a five-game stretch playing strong defense.
“I don’t think we started slow, we started strong,” said Alonso. “We conceded a goal we could have avoided. We should have done better. We have to accept it. They are mistakes from the whole team and staff. “
Alonso said the team’s struggles are “easy to explain, difficult to understand.” He pointed out that Miami typically leads opponents in possession, corners, crosses and shots, but has lost the majority of those games due to lack of focus and individual errors.
Morgan tied it up in the 27th minute and gave Miami a big boost of energy. He took a slick side-footed pass from Victor Ulloa and scored on a right-footed shot from the right side of the box to the top right corner. Midfielder Wil Trapp, starting his first game since Aug. 30, got the sequence started with a pass to Matuidi, who gave it to Ulloa.
New York nearly took the lead again in the 29th minute, but Robles made a tough one-handed low save to knock out Keaton Parks’ shot. Six minutes later, Robles wasn’t as fortunate. Anton Tinnerholm slipped through the Miami defense and left-footed a shot from outside the box to the bottom left corner to give New York a 2-1 lead.
But Miami didn’t stay down for long.
Morgan tied it back up in the 38th minute with his second goal of the night. He right-footed a shot from outside the box to the top right corner. He was assisted by Higuain, who was double-teamed and dished the ball to Morgan.
“An absolutely world-class finish,” said CBS4 commentator Ray Hudson, the former Miami Fusion coach and Fort Lauderdale Strikers star. “A laser beam from the Scotsman.”
Morgan was encouraged that Miami got itself back into the game twice after trailing, but it wasn’t enough.
The teams remained knotted at 2-2 until the 43rd minute. New York sprinted up the field on a breakaway after an intercepted Miami pass, and Mitrita struck again from the center of the box. The ball deflected off a Miami defender and angled in past Robles, giving New York a 3-2 edge heading into halftime.
The second half was not nearly as wild, as neither team scored.
Miami had a few scoring chances early in the second half but was unable to finish – a recurring storyline this season. Morgan nearly got a hat trick, but his 66th-minute shot sailed over the crossbar.
“Last few games have been slack concentration, and as a team, defensively, it’s not just singling out the back four,” Morgan said. “We made individual mistakes and were punished. That’s what happens at this level and we can’t afford to be making those mistakes. It gives you an uphill battle.”
The most notable change in the starting lineup was the inclusion of two MLS veterans – midfielder Wil Trapp and defender A.J. de la Garza. Trapp had started seven matches for Miami, but his last start was Aug. 30 against Nashville. De la Garza, 32, spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy and a few years with the Houston Dynamo before joining Miami.
De la Garza started in place injured Andres Reyes. Nico Figal shifted from right back to center back and de la Garza played right back for 67 minutes, when he was replaced by Dylan Nealis. Trapp also was subbed in the 67th minute by Matias Pellegrini. And Brek Shea entered for Ben Sweat in the 71st minute.
Miami plays next on the road Wednesday at New York Red Bulls.