NEW YORK — Whatever pressure New York City Football Club was feeling as it started its defense of last year’s MLS Cup victory, they redirected that pressure toward its opponent, then turned it up a few notches in a dominating, yet scoreless, first half. Eventually, the pressure tolled for NYCFC, allowing its opportunity to repeat as championship to survive into the next round.
Gabriel Pereira and Maxi Moralez scored six minutes apart just after the hour mark, giving NYCFC the breathing room it needed to cruise to a 3-0 victory over Inter Miami in the first round of the MLS Playoffs. Heber scored in stoppage time to complete the comprehensive victory, and now the Pigeons advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals to take on CF Montreal next Sunday.
New York City FC dominated possession in the first half, which eventually led to it outshooting Inter Miami 16-4 in the first half of play. On three separate occasions, the Inter Miami goalposts were struck three times: once on a header from NYCFC defender Thiago Martins in the 10th minute and on back-to-back clearance attempts by Inter Miami defenders on a Heber shot in the 28th minute.
More confusion at the back from Inter Miami — a collision between between defenders Damion Lowe and Aimé Mabika trying to intercept a long ball — led to NYCFC’s opener in the 63rd minute, as Santiago Rodriguez pounced on the pass before finding Pereira wide open on the right wing, and the Brazilian midfielder opened up his body before curling a left-footed strike into the top corner of the net and past goalkeeper Drake Callender.
NYCFC doubled their lead in the 69th minute with a sublime passage pf possession, as 19 passes were completed in the buildup. The final pass, a back heel from Rodriguez, set up an oncoming Moralez, who struck a low right-footed shot into the far bottom corner to put the game on ice.
Heber made the scoreline more flattering after receiving an errant back pass from Inter Miami midfielder Jean Mota and scoring on his second attempt on goal after an initial save from Callender.
Tonight marked the final professional game for former Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain, who announced his retirement earlier this month. The 34-year-old striker led the front line for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus, and scored 31 goals in 75 appearances for the Argentina national team.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday evening’s contest, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Danny Suriel. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 30 pictures in total.