Charlotte FC beats Inter Miami to land playoff spot

League: MLS

Posted on: 22 Oct, 2023 at 06:59 AM

Credit: Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports

Kerwin Vargas scored his second goal in as many matches and Charlotte FC clinched their first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs by holding on to a 1-0 victory over Lionel Messi and visiting Inter Miami on Saturday.

Vargas' goal -- coming after he scored and contributed an assist in a 2-2 draw at Miami on Wednesday night -- coupled with results in other Eastern Conference matches lifted Charlotte (10-11-13, 43 points) to ninth in the East on the season's final day.

They'll visit the New York Red Bulls in the East play-in game on Wednesday or Thursday, with the winner to face Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati in a best-of-three first-round series.

Kristijan Kahlina made three saves to keep the clean sheet, including a couple of reaction saves deep in the second half with Miami (9-18-7, 34 points) pressuring.

Messi played 90 minutes for the first time since a 3-1 win at LAFC on Sept. 3 after a combination of an injury and international duty limited him to just 72 minutes and two appearances in Miami's eight previous league matches.

The Herons were officially eliminated from postseason contention during that stretch, and while Messi scored 10 times while helping Miami win the 2023 Leagues Cup, he had only one in MLS regular season play.

Vargas gave the hosts the lead in the 13th minute. It began with an attack that worked left-to-right up the field before Kamil Jozwiak tried to hit an inswinging cross back across the goal from the right flank.

A Miami defender deflected that attempt directly back to Jozwiak, who then spotted Vargas to his left. Vargas feigned a shot to elude DeAndre Yedlin's challenge, dodged left, and then finished past goalkeeper C.J. dos Santos and inside the right post.

Messi had an apparent goal early in the second half correctly disallowed for being offside. Then in the 62nd minute, his free kick from a tight angle on the right caromed off Enzo Copetti and Kahlina and then off the crossbar but stayed out.

Karol Swiderski found himself wide open in the box with a chance to score Charlotte's second in the 72nd minute, but dos Santos leaped off his line and made a sprawling save from close range with his left arm.

Kahlina made a stop of exceptional nature, leaping left to deny Leonardo Campana's flick-on header in the 90th minute, and then still had to perform some more heroics in a couple of goal-mouth scrambles.

--Field Level Media