Kerwin Vargas produced a goal and an assist, but Charlotte FC twice gave back the lead against short-handed Inter Miami en route to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that damaged the visitors’ playoff hopes.
Enzo Copetti also scored his sixth goal and first in eight matches for Charlotte (9-11-13, 40 points), which could have moved above the playoff line and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a win in both teams’ penultimate match of the season.
Instead, Miami (9-17-7, 34 points) overcame the absence of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi to international duty to earn a respectable result in its home finale. Substitute Robbie Robinson scored the final leveler in the 84th minute.
Nicolas Stefanelli scored the first equalizer in first-half stoppage time for the Herons, who were already eliminated from playoff contention after digging too big a hole prior to Messi’s arrival this summer.
Messi has pledged he will play when these teams meet again on Saturday in North Carolina, with Charlotte needing a win and favorable results elsewhere to snag the eighth or ninth seed in the East and a postseason place.
After Charlotte conceded moments before the halftime whistle, Vargas put the visitors in the lead seven minutes after the break.
Brecht Dejaegere played the ball down the left onto the run of Kamil Jozwiak, who struck a low cross in the direction of Copetti near the penalty spot.
Copetti let the cross run to the back post, where Vargas met it for a first-time finish with enough pace to beat lunging goalkeeper Drake Callender.
Charlotte goalie Kristijan Kahlina made two excellent saves shortly after his team went ahead, denying Stefanelli’s snap shot attempt with a low diving stop in the 55th minute, then repelling a Noah Allen attempt on a one-on-one break in the 57th.
However, his defense was absent when Robinson tied the game in the 84th minute on an unmarked header off Leonardo Campana’s cross from beyond the right corner of the penalty area.
Kahlina made another excellent stop to deny Robinson a brace and Miami a winner in second-half stoppage time.
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