Liоnel Messi’s brilliance shоne thrоugh as Inter Miami staged a remarkable cоmeback in the U.S. оpen Cup semi-finals оn Wednesday night, оverturning a late deficit tо secure victоry in a dramatic penalty shооtоut. Messi’s pivоtal rоle, marked by twо crucial assists and a successful perfоrmance in the shооtоut, nоt оnly prоpelled the team tо the finals but alsо rekindled hоpes оf a histоric rооkie seasоn triple crоwn achievement.
FC Cincinnati player Luciano Acosta scored on a deflected shot in the 18th minute, beating Leagues Cup hero Drake Callender at the near post. Two minutes later, United States me𝚗’s national team attacker Brandon Vazquez increased the lead with a low, powerful shot from outside the box.
However, in the 68th minute, Messi, who had been unable to find space for Inter Miami, pulled them back into the game with a floating free-kιck from the wing that found the wide-open head of a charging Leonardo Campana. It was the kind of situation that Cincinnati’s defense collapsed due to, and it was one that head coach Pat Noonan had warned his squad about.
Noonan noted before the game, “You could spend 89 minutes doing as good a job as you can to stop an important player.” To paraphrase, “And in one moment, even with the right defensive structure, the right numbers around the ball, he still has the ability to change the game with the spectacular.”
Then, during the timeout, Cincinnati seemed to lose interest. Midfielders drifted off of Messi. Calmly, he heaved a long pass over the top of the defense, setting up Campana for another easy finish that tied the game at two and sent it into overtime.
Inter Miami, as they have repeatedly this month, improved as their confidence built. Cincinnati appeared to fall away at the same time. Early in extra time, Inter Miami took the lead after defender Matt Miazga gave the ball away and 18-year-old prodigy Benjamin Cremaschi put a pass onto the feet of Josef Martinez.
For Inter Miami, Martinez was largely forgotten. The former MVP of Atlanta United has fallen to second billing behind Lionel Messi after his signing in the beginning of 2023. His goal served as a timely reminder of how valuable he can be in the home stretch of the race.
At the eleventh hour, Cincinnati equalized when Yuya Kubo received a pass on the edge of the box and curled it past Sergio Busquets, who had not yet reached the ball.
After defeating Nashville SC in a shootout a few days prior, Inter Miami scored all five of their penalty kicks to win this one.
Former Barcelona teammates Messi, Jordi Alba, and Busquets all played the full match. The all-star lineup that co-owner David Beckham put together once again delivered.
The Argentine striker may need a break after playing twice in a week, thus he may be forced to sit out this weekend’s game against New York Red Bulls. Head coach Gerardo Martino has said that he has complete control over his playing time. That’s something we talked about a few days ago,” Martino said to the media, “that he should rest, and recuperate every 3-4 days, clearly Wednesday will not be that day, but you all know how he is, he likes to play. So long as he doesn’t sаy anything, I’m sure he’ll keep playing.
The winner of Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake will play Inter Miami in the US Open Cup final.