Miami (AFP) – Phil Neville tasted defeat in his first competitive match as Inter Miami manager as a double from former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez helped LA Galaxy snare a 3-2 Major League Soccer opening day victory.
Neville saw his new side twice take the lead through Robbie Robinson and a Gonzalo Higuain penalty but “Chicharito” Hernandez, who was coached by Neville at Old Trafford for a spell when the 44-year-old was working under David Moyes during the 2013 season, scrubbed out the lead on two occasions before Sacha Kljestan scored the winner on 81 minutes.
It was a bitterly disappointing ending for Neville, who had seen his new side dominate for large periods only to come unstuck with some less than impressive defending.
“I loved every single minute,” Neville said, “apart from the result.”
This was a big moment for Neville, the former England women’s coach who was taking complete charge of a club side for the first time in his career having also spent a season coaching in Valencia in 2015.
“The occasion was everything and more, I have had lots of them in my career but the supporters were amazing and to have them at the stadium and create such an intensity was incredible considering the temperature and it being the first game of the season,” Neville said.
The sun was beating down in South Florida yet Neville, along with close friend and franchise owner David Beckham, were both decked out in club suits ahead of Inter Miami’s second season in MLS.
With 8,000 fans in the stands at the newly branded Drv Pnk stadium — a nod to sponsors AutoNation’s cancer charity Drive Pink — the excitement was palpable.
Unfortunately, in the opening stages there was little to get the pulses racing.
The home side were enjoying plenty of possession but, just like in their disappointing debut season, efforts on goal were harder to come by. Miami skipper Higuain forced LA keeper Jonathan Bond into a smart stop on 22 minutes while only a poor first touch from Hernandez soon after stopped the Mexican forward from getting a shot on target.
Bond denied Higuain again on 31 minutes, a cracking curling shot from 18 yards was well saved as the home side finally began to threaten in the final third.
And just moments before half-time Neville was jumping for joy as Robinson rolled in his first ever MLS goal to put the home side into the driving seat.
Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro fed Higuain and the ex- Real Madrid and Juventus star powered towards goal before squaring for Robinson who made no mistake from close range.
The former Clemson forward, 22, came close to doubling the lead on 46 minutes following good work from Higuain who was beginning to cause problems for the LA Galaxy defence.
But on 61 minutes, Hernandez reminded Neville how lethal he can be, brilliantly turning and finishing past John McCarthy.
“That first goal from Chicharito is what we always saw at Manchester United, his movement and anticipation, he just knows where the ball will drop,” Neville said. “If you switch off you get punished and that’s what happened. We knew that. The players felt comfortable, we created the better chances and that’s why we are so disappointed.”
– Costly mistakes –
Higuain restored the lead from the penalty spot after Pizarro was felled in the area.
That should have calmed Miami nerves but Hernandez pounced on defensive indecision to level once again before Kljestan struck the decisive goal on 81 minutes.
“Two out of the three goals came from us giving the ball away,” Neville said. “There was a 10 minute period in the second half where we dipped in energy and we knew that would happen because of the lack of game time we have had pre-season.
“Mistakes cost you at this level and we got punished. They looked like a team who have played other MLS sides in preseason while we only played two games against teams in the USL.
MLS commissioner Don Garber, meanwhile, was in attendance in Fort Lauderdale and told reporters that Inter Miami will be hit by sanctions “this week” after being found guilty of financial irregularities following the signing of Blaise Matuidi from Juventus last summer.
“Our rules are sacrosanct,” Garber said.
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