According to coach Tata Martino, he did not score but Lionel Messi had a decisive influence on Inter Miami’s victory, especially the goal pass in injury time in the semi-final of the 2023 American Cup.
“In addition to his professional contributions, Messi also motivates his teammates, the coaching staff and the club with the enthusiasm and character of the leader. He always finds the answer to every moment of the game,” Martino said after the win over Cincinnati. “The second assist was great. Messi has enchanted things that other players find difficult into simple things. It was a super classy assist.”
Coach Martino celebrates with Messi after winning the 2023 Leagues Cup. Photo: EP
At the National Stadium, Miami was led by two goals by the hosts, in danger of losing in the semifinals of the 2023 U.S. Nations Cup. However, Messi spoke up. In the 68th minute, from the free kick on the left flank, he passed to Leonardo Campana to turn in a header to cut the score to 1-2. In the seventh minute of injury time, Messi safely stepped back into the middle of the pitch to get the ball and suddenly crossed early. The ball slipped past the reach of a Cincinnatti defender and poured back, just past Campana’s head level, for the Ecuador striker to level at 2-2.
Through extra time, each side scored one more goal and drew 3-3. In the penalty shootout, Messi completed the task, contributing to Inter Miami winning 5-4. It was the first time the 36-year-old striker had not scored since moving to the United States, but his contribution was decisive to Inter Miami’s victory. In the previous seven matches, Messi scored 10 goals, helping the home team win and won the Leagues Cup – First title in the club’s history.
Delighted with the victory, Martino is also worried about Messi’s fitness. With the excepti on of his debut and coming on as a substitute in a 2-1 win over Cruz Azul on July 22, his compatriot started and played the full seven remaining games. “Like many players, Leo is reaching his fitness limit,” Martino said. “From this point forward, we will evaluate our approach for the next three games.”
After Martino’s comments, Argentina’s Twitter also expressed concern for Messi’s fitness. “Messi needs a lot of rest. Desperately needed,” they wrote.
The large area of the United States makes the player’s movement more physically consuming. For example, the distance from Miami’s DRV PNK home stadium to the Red Bull Arena is over 2,000 kilometers while their distance returning from Cincinnati is 1,760 km. Many players in the Miami squad, despite being younger than Messi, also showed signs of weakness against Cincinnati.
Messi celebrates after his team’s win over Cincinnati. Photo: Inter Miami
In the next game on August 27, Miami is away at the New York Red Bulls. This is expected to be Messi’s debut in the American Professional Soccer League MLS. Fans are eager to see how he performs in the North American continent’s number one soccer league. Therefore, the decision to rest Messi or not may not be solely a professional matter for coach Martino.
Inter Miami was founded in 2018. Two years later, they joined MLS, coming in at No. 19, 20 and sixth over three seasons, respectively. Currently, David Beckham’s side are bottom of the table after 22 games in 2023, including five wins, three draws and 14 losses. Before signing Messi, Miami went 11 consecutive winless games.
FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan admitted that Lionel Messi made a magical moment that helped Inter Miami win the semi-finals of the American Cup.
“This defeat is really painful,” Noonan said after the Aug. 24 game. “My players deserved better results. We played well for most of the game, but after that, Messi had moments of magic assisting two comeback goals. There is nothing more we can do than what we have done.”