INTER MIAMI thundered into the MLS play-offs – in the middle of tropical storm Eta.
The wild conditions failed to derail David Beckham’s strugglers and with other results amazingly going their way, Miami sneaked through the post-season back door on a dramatic final day.
Becks’ team needed to beat old pal Jaap Stam’s Cincinnati and pick up some favours from elsewhere to make sure a first MLS campaign didn’t end in failure.
First half strikes from Mikey Ambrose and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez helped Miami bag their part of the bargain.
A wonder goal from Joe Gyau on 66 minutes and a late red card for Inter defender Andres Reyes ensured a nervy finale but when confirmation of Atlanta and Chicago dropping points arrived, the 2,703 soaked Inter fans allowed into the stadium were dancing in the pouring rain.
Cincinnati, who’ve been bossed by Manchester United stopper Stam since May, were the only Eastern Conference side not to have a chance of making the play-offs going into ‘Decision Day’.
They have now finished bottom for the second year in a row, but Inter Miami were gunning to keep a difficult campaign going and can now look forward to a clash with fellow newcomers Nashville later this month.
The conditions were atrocious but boss Diego Alonso watched his men battle hard.
When Ambrose smashed home his first ever MLS goal on 19 minutes, the dream was alive.
Former Celtic winger Lewis Morgan can certainly bend it like Beckham and the 24-year-old brilliantly used the swirling winds to his advantage by curling a corner straight onto the head of Gonzalez Pirez for number two.
Stam’s men pushed hard late on but the home side weathered the storm superbly to spark wild scenes of celebration on the sidelines.
Play-off qualification, for the side that acquired Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus back in September, was a long shot.
The MLS rookies needed to win, and two of Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire and Atlanta United to fail to gain maximum points in their respective matches against DC United, NYCFC and Columbus Crew.
Thierry Henry’s Impact did manage to win after an 88th minute Romell Quioto winner.
But a 4-3 Chicago Fire defeat and 2-1 Atlanta United loss gave Inter an unlikely lifeline and extended this most extraordinary of rookie seasons.
After the triumph, boss Alonso, 45, said: “We are very excited, it has been a difficult year but we have worked hard and today we got the reward.
“It’s a big step for us, if they were normal conditions we would have won by more but we are just happy to get there.
“We knew the results were falling into place but needed to wait and it’s great we could celebrate with the fans who came to support us in such circumstances. We dedicate this moment to them. They still showed up and that’s incredible.
This group loves to play life or death matches
“They are some of the worst conditions I have ever seen as a player or coach and it was difficult to know how to play.
“We wanted to attack, but it wasn’t a day for a lot of touches. Every time the ball went into the air it was difficult.”
The MLS play-offs are all one leg knock-out games and Alonso added:” A new tournament starts now and we can forget what has happened in the season up until this point.
“This group loves to play life or death matches. I am delighted.”