TORONTO — Gonzalo Higuaín came through at just the right time as his 86th-minute goal lifted Inter Miami CF to a 1-0 win to spoil Toronto FC's final home game of the season on Friday.
Higuaín’s goal was the culmination of a very strong second half by Miami (13-13-6), which was in desperate need of a victory having entered the game holding onto the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by way of a tiebreaker.
Miami controlled the ball throughout the game, finishing with 59 per cent possession. However, Toronto (9-17-7) was able to hang with the visitors, especially in the first half.
“I thought the first half was good,” said Toronto head coach Bob Bradley after the game. “(We) created some really good chances, got into the box in a bunch of different ways.”
TFC had the majority of the quality scoring chances in the opening 45 minutes, most of which came from the feet of Federico Bernardeschi. The Italian star was the architect of several strong challenges from the Toronto side, but Miami's defence matched even his best efforts.
“I thought we had more chances in the first half, and we didn’t score,” said Bernardeschi after the loss. “I’m very sorry for this game, because it was the last game at home, in front of our fans.”
Toronto’s raucous crowd brought the energy throughout the match, but it was Miami who came out for the second half with a renewed spark. The visitors turned their game-long possession advantage into serious threats against Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, who made two saves in the opening half.
Westberg’s strong play was an encouraging sign for the Reds, despite the loss. TFC had allowed four goals in each of their last three contests entering Friday night.
“He made a couple of big saves prior to the goal,” said Bradley. “In the second half, when we needed him, he made a couple of plays that were important.”
The Toronto 'keeper’s best moment came in the 73rd minute as Miami forward Ariel Lassiter came through the defence on a near breakaway, only to be stopped cold. Toronto defender Richie Laryea was able to clear the follow-up attempt.
Despite earning several quality scoring chances throughout the game, both sides had trouble converting them into goals.
After a tentative opening 10 minutes, the two teams began to open up as play started to flow more smoothly. A Michael Bradley steal set up the first great scoring chance of the game, but a staunch defensive effort from Miami prevented Toronto from getting off a quality shot.
The action continued from there, as both sides traded opportunities throughout the first half.
Both 'keepers had their moments to shine in the opening 45 minutes, as Miami’s Drake Callender made several strong saves, including one in the 36th minute on Bernardeschi. The Toronto forward took a strong shot that deflected off a Miami defender and looked set to be the match’s first goal, but Callender made a diving save to keep the game scoreless.
TFC was able to threaten Miami with more chances after Higuaín’s goal, but none of them materialized into a game-tying score.
Toronto's inability to put the ball in the back of the net sent supporters home with little to be cheerful about on Fan Appreciation Night at BMO Field, something that didn’t sit well with Bob Bradley.
“It’s awesome to see the fans game in and game out,” said the Toronto coach. “I think we’ve been able to give them a few moments of the football that they deserve, but not enough moments.
“These fans deserve a team that’s going to compete at the top part of the league, and we know that.”
The loss marks the end of TFC's home schedule for 2022, as the team will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Toronto will play the Philadelphia Union on Oct. 9 in its final outing of the regular season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2022.