Defender Tomas Aviles became was the unlikely hero for Inter Miami Saturday night, as his goal in extra time pulled Miami to a draw against New York City FC (NYCFC) 1-1 at DRV PNK stadium.
After being awarded a corner kick in the 95th minute, Aviles got his head to the ball and forced it into the right side of the net from about six yards away. It was the 19-year-old Argentinian’s first ever goal for Inter Miami, and it erupted the home crowd into a frenzy of celebration.
The game could have gone much differently if Inter Miami were at full strength. Two Inter Miami’s three former FC Barcelona stars sat out the game as Jordi Alba and superstar Lionel Messi watched from the stands. Messi missed with a reported leg injury, while Alba missed his second straight game nursing a hamstring injury. So far, Inter Miami has 10 wins, one draw, and no losses when Messi takes the field for them, while they only have one win, two draws, and two losses when he isn’t.
From the very beginning of the game, NYCFC had chances to score. They had two free kicks from inside 25 yards before the five-minute mark. Both of the attempts were blocked by the wall.
The early chances set the tone for the first half. NYCFC found themselves on the break many times after pressuring Inter Miami in the middle third of the field and creating Miami turnovers all game.
From their possession came multiple great chances through Inter Miami’s defensive line. City’s starting striker, Algerian Monsef Bakrar, had two shots come from through-ball passes, both happening inside the 18-yard box but going wide of the goal.
Bakrar had his best chance to score in the 25th minute of the game. This time, midfielder Andres Perea had a through ball sent down the far side of the pitch and sent a hards riven cross towards Bakrar. He was slightly too far away from the pass, resulting in his contact with the ball being too weak to go on target. If the shot was on target, Miami goalie Drake Callender would not have gotten to the ball.
However, as the half went on, Miami had more success stringing meaningful passes together. They had their best chance of the half just before the half ended. Inter striker Ecuadorian Leonardo Campana had a ball chipped in from the 18-yard-line towards goal that he got his head onto but was cleared by NYCFC before any Miami player could make a play.
The two teams were scoreless at the half. However, NYCFC’s control of the midfield and their constant breakaways made it seem they were the better team up to that point.
But Miami seemed to have a new life after returning from the break. They could force two corner kicks in the first three minutes and have 19-year-old Noah Allen slightly miss a volley from the second corner. About five minutes later, Dixon Arroyo had a chance on goal from about 20 yards out that sailed just above the goal post.
Miami possessed the ball for a hefty majority of the second half, and any time NYCFC had the ball, they found a way to turn it over relatively quickly. By the final whistle, Inter had their total game possession to 64.5 percent.
But possession does not matter; what does is the score. In the 76th minute, when all looked successful for Inter Miami, City’s Santiago Rodriguez broke free from the Miami defense and, from an extreme angle, skied a shot into the roof of the net to suck the life out of DRV PNK stadium and give NYCFC a 1-0 lead. It was the Uruguayan’s fourth goal of the season and his first since May 6.
After the goal, NYCFC sat back and attempted to defend for the final approximately 20 minutes, but it proved to not be the best idea with Martinez’s goal coming with just a short time left. However, Miami had another prime chance to score – this time with one minute left. After receiving the ball about 10 yards away from the goal, midfielder David Ruiz smacked the ball past NYCFC goalie Matthew Freese but hit the crossbar in the process. The ball landed downward but did not cross the line to give Miami the comeback.
With just four games left in their regular season and one game in hand, Miami is just four points away from a spot in the postseason. They still need to jump five teams in point total to do so, one of those teams being NYCFC.
Inter Miami will try to get back to winning ways against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday at Soldier Field. The game will start at 8:30 p.m.