Despite missing Lionel Messi, Inter Miami moved within six points of the playoff positions in Major League Soccer with a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Messi was one of eight Inter Miami players away on international duty, but Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s team showed their strength in depth as they extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 12 games.
With Miami battling to rise from their pre-Messi position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference into the top nine, they know they have little room for error but their night began poorly.
Goalkeeper Drake Callender failed to hold on to a drive from Felipe Gutierrez and Daniel Salloi slotted home the loose ball.
Miami drew level though in the 25th minute through a Leonardo Campana penalty after the Ecuadoran forward was flattened by Kansas City keeper Tim Melia as they challenged for a high ball.
Unlike Messi, Campana was not called up for this week’s South American World Cup qualifiers and he proved decisive as he put the home side 2-1 up with a fine header from a DeAndre Yedlin cross on the stroke of half-time.
Campana went close to a hat-trick after the break with a deft touch goalwards from a low Jordi Alba cross but Melia got down well to save.
Melia was in action to deny Nicolas Stefanelli after more good work from Alba, who recently retired from duty with the Spanish national side.
Miami’s other former Spain stalwart, midfielder Sergio Busquets, created the third when he showed great awareness to take a quick free-kick on the half-way line and send Argentine forward Facundo Farias through.
Farias, one of a trio of young South American signings brought in to add some energy and talent to accompany the team’s veteran stars, showed great composure as he ran in on goal and beat Melia with a perfectly placed shot.
But with 12 minutes remaining, Sporting pulled a goal back with Alan Pulido’s 13th MLS goal of the season, the Mexican pounding on a loose ball and then beating Callender with a clinical finish.
The visitors enjoyed plenty of pressure in the latter stages, including the seven minutes of stoppage time when a tired Miami was hanging on.
But with DC United held to a 0-0 draw at home to San Jose, Miami are now just six points behind Wayne Rooney’s ninth placed team in the East and have two games in hand.
Champions Los Angeles FC suffered a third straight defeat with a 2-0 loss at the Portland Timbers who are also looking to make a late push into the playoffs.
After defeats to Charlotte and Miami, LAFC fell behind when their goalkeeper John McCarthy made a hash of a corner allowing Larrys Mabiala to tap in from close range.
Claudio Bravo then made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute with the Argentine full-back starting off a swift exchange of passes before bursting into the box and providing the finish.
The win moves the Timbers up to 11th, just a point outside the playoff positions with six games left in their season.
In the East, Minnesota United equalized in stoppage time through Franco Fragapane to earn a 1-1 draw at home to second-placed New England.
Carles Gil’s excellent first time finish from a low cross from fellow Spaniard Nacho Gil gave the Revolution a 38th minute lead.
But with the clock running out, Minnesota won a corner and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair came forward for the set-piece, providing the pass to Fragapane for the dramatic leveler.
After the game, New England announced that their head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena had resigned following an MLS investigation into what the league called “insensitive and inappropriate remarks”.
The 71-year-old Arena had been placed on administrative leave after the investigation was launched on July 30.
Arena’s former assistant Richie Williams will continue as interim head coach of the team, the club said.
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