Gonzalo Higuain celebrates his game-winning goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
HARRISON, N.J. – If the Red Bulls somehow miss the MLS Cup Playoffs or finish with a poor seeding, they might want to look back at Wednesday’s game against Inter Miami CF.
They allowed three valuable home points against one of the worst teams in MLS go down the drain.
The Red Bulls squandered a few scoring chances in the first half and that came back to haunt them in a 2-1 loss at Red Bull Arena.
Gonzalo Higuain made sure of that, scoring his first MLS goal off an 81st-minute free kick to snap a 1-1 deadlock to seal the Red Bulls’ fate.
After Jason Pendant fouled him near the top of the penalty arc, the Argentine international bent a textbook free kick around a six-man wall from 23 yards and off the right post and into the net. Jason Pendant had just fouled Higuain in the danger zone.
The result left the seventh-place Red Bulls (20 points) at 6-8-2, a record that includes four losses in their last five home matches. Miami (3-10-2), mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, broke a three-game losing streak and avenged a 4-1 home loss to the Red Bulls Sept. 23.
“I’m shocked and disappointed that we didn’t get anything out of this game,” Red Bulls interim head coach Bradley Carnell said.
Asked on MSG on what he would tell his team, Carnell replied: “We must respond. We must do better. We must get results.”
Especially at home.
“It is hurting us,” said Omir Fernandez, who scored the Red Bulls’ loan goal. “We think we deserved much more. We created a lot of chances for ourselves and we were very confident after the first half. For us to drop points at home it hurts us for sure.”
Both teams were missing key players due to international duty and injuries.
Inter Miami CF was without Rodolfo Pizarro, playing with Mexico and former Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, who suffered a fractured left arm when New York City FC’s Andrew Mackay-Steven rammed into him last weekend.
The Red Bulls’ midfield was decimated as Kaku (Paraguay) and Cristian Casseres, Jr. (Venezuela) were with their respective teams for the start of South American World Cup qualifying.
The most intriguing sibling rivalry in the league was between the Nealis brothers – defender Nealis (Hofstra University) of the Red Bulls and midfielder-defender Dylan (Georgetown University) of Miami as they met for the first time.
The hosts had the better opportunities than Miami over the opening 45 minutes, outshooting their foes, 9-4, but had nothing to show for their efforts.
Tom Barlow, back in the lineup, had the first two close encounter. In the 18th minute, Blaise Matuidi barely cleared Barlow’s header off the goal line with an open net. Six minutes later, Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy decided to stay home and made himself big to deny Barlow on the left side of the penalty area.
Jared Stroud twice picked the pocket of Christian Makoun in the first half and the second time he almost converted, shooting just wide right in the 37th minute.
Both sides finally found the range early in the second half as mistakes on both ends let to goals.
First, it was Miami’s turn. The visitors’ inability to clear the ball away from the penalty area allowed the Red Bulls to quickly gain possession. Sean Nealis fed Stroud, who found Fernandez for a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute.
“It was a great pass by Jared,” Fernandez said. “He is a very unselfish player and I knew if he got himself in that spot he is always looking for somebody in a better spot and I just wanted to get myself in a good position.”
The Red Bulls, however, were hardly finished celebrating two minutes later when Miami caught them napping as Matias Pellegrini, taking a feed from Lewis Morgan, found himself open thanks to poor marking by Mandela Egbo on the left side of the box before beating keeper David Jensen from 10 yards and a 1-1 deadlock.
“I’m just a little bit disappointed how naïve we are at the very next play, following the goal,” Carnell said. “So that just disappoints me a little bit. I would have liked a little bit of a more savvy response in terms of how we managed the next couple of minutes, just to get. .. I guess we thought the flood gates were going to open and we were going to have another 4-1 thrashing.”