Missing Lionel Messi again, Inter Miami’s hopes of squeezing into the MLS playoffs suffered a body blow on Wednesday with a 4-1 defeat to Chicago Fire.
The defeat leaves Miami next to bottom of the Eastern Conference and five points off the last playoff spot with just three games remaining and their destiny no longer in their own hands.
Wednesday’s action saw five teams in the Western Conferencem, including defending champions Los Angeles FC, earn places in the playoffs alongside top seed St. Louis City.
The prospect of seeing the Argentine World Cup winner Messi in action drew a record home crowd of 62,124 to Soldier Field in Chicago but with no Messi, it was Chicago’s own diminutive number 10 who put on the show.
Swiss former Liverpool and Bayern Munich playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri scored twice with his compatriot Maren Haile-Selassie also grabbing a brace.
Chicago’s win strengthens their chances of making the post-season for the first time since 2017, moving them up to eighth place.
All the action came in the second half with Shaqiri opening the scoring four minutes after the interval, finishing off a fine passing move with a left-foot shot at the back post.
Miami bounced back swiftly though with Josef Martinez converting a penalty after a handball from Chicago defender Jonathan Dean.
Chicago regained the lead in the 62nd minute when substitute Haile-Selassie slotted home after being played in by Fabian Herbers.
Haile-Selassie struck again to make it 3-1 with Miami’s back line slow to react to a cross from the right from Ousmane Doumbia and then Shaqiri completed the rout with a smart finish after he was put through by Gaston Gimenez.
“It’s beautiful to see Soldier Field packed full for soccer game and I hope they’re going to come more and more because we showed today how good we are and the team spirit is here,” said Shaqiri.
“We needed that win obviously and every game now is a final…It was a perfect night for us,” added the 31-year-old.
– Sounders Clinch –
In the Western Conference, the Seattle Sounders clinched their place in the playoffs thanks to a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Sounders, who missed out on the playoffs last year, secured their 14th playoff appearance in 15 seasons.
But they had to wait until the sixth minute of stoppage time when Cristian Roldan fired home the winner.
Last year’s MLS Cup winners Los Angeles FC, earned their post-season spot in more emphatic fashion with a 5-1 thrashing of struggling Minnesota United.
Denis Bouanga hit a first half hat-trick, his fourth triple of the season, after his team had fallen a goal behind.
The Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps also qualified for the playoffs with the Texans’ drawing 1-1 at Montreal and the Whitecaps beating St.Louis 3-0.
Expansion club St. Louis had already assured themselves of top spot in the West while Wednesday’s results mean that Real Salt Lake, who did not play, had their qualification confirmed.
In the East, Charlotte kept their postseason hopes alive with a 3-0 win over the conference’s bottom club Toronto with two first-half penalties from Polish forward Karol Swiderski.
Although the North Carolina side are in 13th place, they are just two points behind Montreal, who occupy ninth place, the last playoff spot in the East.
The New York Red Bulls kept themselves in contention with a 2-1 win at Eastern Conference leaders Cincinnati.
Cincinnati had already secured the top seed in the playoffs and the home field advantage that brings and having started with several key players on the bench they fell behind to early goals from Frankle Amaya and Elias Monoel before Luciano Acosta, on as a sub, got them back in the game with a 68th minute penalty.
D.C. United’s playoff hopes faded further with Wayne Rooney’s team suffering a 3-0 loss at Austin, a win which keeps the Texan side in contention for a post-season berth in the West.