Inter Miami’s co-owner Jorge Mas confidently predicted: “There’s going to be a before and after Messi in football for this country.”
One month into the new era, Lionel Messi hoisted aloft the first trophy in the franchise’s embryonic history.
With his first shot of the night, Messi opened the scoring in the final of the Leagues Cup against Nashville SC, racking up his tenth goal of the tournament and extending his streak of finding the net in every appearance. After Fafa Picault’s equaliser, the World Cup-winning skipper converted the first penalty in a nerve-shredding shootout which Miami narrowly won.
Messi-mania may have a firm grip over North America – one online retailer sold six months’ worth of Messi shirts in a single day – but he still hasn’t played a minute in the top flight, Major League Soccer (MLS).
That long-awaited league debut has been pushed back once again as Messi is thrust into the latter stages of another knockout competition. Here’s when Messi will have the chance to pen another chapter in this new era.
Arguably Messi’s most subdued performance in an Inter Miami shirt was against Charlotte FC in the Leagues Cup quarter-final. Yet, the Herons romped to a 4-0 win and the great man still got on the scoresheet.
With that humbling experience still fresh in the memory, Charlotte may not have been too disheartened to see their league meeting with Miami postponed so that the Leagues Cup could conclude.
Messi’s next posting will be on the road against Cincinnati for the semi-finals of the US Open Cup. The match kicks off on Wednesday 23 August at 19:00 local time (which equates to midnight in the UK on the morning of Thursday 24 August). While Miami sit bottom of the Eastern Conference in MLS, Cincinnati are the outright leaders of the division, losing just two of their first 23 league games.
Miami may have broken records for their awful start to the MLS season but squeaked their way to the semi-finals of the nation’s oldest cup competition without Messi. Although, Inter – managed by Phil Neville at the time – almost fell at the first hurdle. It took a pair of last-gasp equalisers in normal and extra time to force a penalty shootout against second-tier city rivals Miami FC in the third round.
The cup final, which will be against one of Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake, doesn’t take place until 27 September.
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As Messi was tossed into the air by his new teammates, the chants of ‘Campeones’ bellowing out from the throng of celebrating pink shirts clashed with Inter Miami’s standings in the MLS league table.
Messi may have guided Miami to the organisation’s maiden title but the Herons still have the worst record of any team in Major League Soccer this season.
A pitiful return of 18 points from 22 games will surely be improved with Messi (and Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba) in the team, but the new-look side won’t return to league action until they travel to the Big Apple for a meeting with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday 26 August 19:30 local time (00:30 BST on 27 August for UK viewers).
Until Messi landed in South Beach, Miami were desperately blunt going forward. Only Toronto FC had scored fewer league goals than the Herons this season. The New York Red Bulls have also struggled, matching Miami’s paltry tally of 22. However, unlike Miami’s coach Tata Martino, Red Bulls boss Troy Lesesne has not had the luxury of signing arguably the game’s greatest ever goalscorer in the last month.
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