NASHVILLE — Less than a month after Lionel Messi’s arrival, he clinched his maiden U.S.Lionel Messi secures victory for Inter Miami soccer championship.
He netted the solitary goal for Inter Miami during regular play and converted the first penalty in the shootout that determined the Leagues Cup championship. In a thrilling spectacle witnessed by 30,109 fans at Geodis Park
Miami emerged victorious against Nashville in a dramatic sudden-death penalty shootout. The shootout maintained its perfection until Inter’s final kicker, Víctor Ulloa, missed. The pattern persisted until the sudden-death phase, when Nashville’s Randall Leal stumbled. As the momentum shifted to the goalkeepers, the home team’s keeper found himself unable to secure the win.
The match began resembling a strategic boxing bout, with an initial phase focused on analysis, resulting in a struggle for ball possession. With patience and an increasing grip on possession, Robert Taylor made his first attempt on goal at the 21st minute, but the local goalkeeper thwarted his effort.
Merely three minutes later, Messi’s brilliance illuminated the scene. Seizing the ball on the right with an airborne touch, he elegantly maneuvered past Walker Zimmerman, before unleashing a shot from the edge of the arc, crafting a goal of sheer beauty and securing a 1-0 advantage for Inter.
This moment marked Messi’s 800th career goal, the tenth in just eight Leagues Cup matches. Yet, beyond the statistics, this pivotal goal compelled Nashville SC to undertake a complete strategic overhaul, aiming to create more openings in the field to counter Miami’s dominance.
Throughout the remainder of the first half, Inter Miami adeptly maintained their tempo, mirroring their approach in the preceding three tournament games: orchestrating possession play, adopting a deliberate pace, and constructing their attacks through the orchestrations of Sergio Busquets. Furthermore, Messi’s bursts of acceleration added an extra layer of dynamism. The tight man-marking of Dax McCarthy against Messi, initially robust, gradually waned.
Inter held a commanding share of possession in the initial 45 minutes, with almost 60 percent (58.8) of the ball under their control. Their passing dominance was evident, registering 114 more completed passes than their opponents. Notably absent from his usual impactful position in MLS, Hany Mukhtar, the Most Valuable Player for the hosts, struggled to make his presence felt after Coach Gary Smith deployed him deeper on the field.
All appeared to be proceeding according to plan until a mishandled ball by Dixon Arroyo culminated in a corner kick that Fafa Picault expertly capitalized on, equalizing the score at the 57th-minute mark. Regrettably for Inter, the goal was officially attributed as an own goal due to a deflection by goalkeeper Drake Callender.
Coach Gerardo Martino’s tactical adjustment arrived in the 67th minute, with Cremaschi making way for Diego Gómez, and Josef Martínez being replaced by Leonardo Campana. Although the latter spent a considerable portion of the game on the pitch, he largely operated unnoticed.
At that point, it was clear that Inter was struggling to maintain possession, evident from their mishandling of simple passes, which allowed Nashville to regain control of the match with a newfound determination.
Taking advantage of the most favorable playing conditions they had experienced since the tournament’s inception, Miami seemed fatigued until the precise instant when Messi’s left foot once again intervened from the edge of the penalty area. The resulting strike reverberated off the left post of Nashville’s goal, coming agonizingly close to marking the Argentine star’s second goal of the game. This gripping moment unfolded with slightly over 20 minutes remaining in regular play.