CINCINNATI – Just when it seemed that fatigue was setting in and opponents were beginning to decipher their strategies, Inter Miami, buoyed by the hopes of thousands of fans, found a way to shine once more.
Lionel Messi, the football maestro, orchestrated a last-minute comeback by providing two crucial assists to Leonardo Campana, leveling the score at 2-2. This dramatic turn of events led the team to a subsequent victory in the penalty shootout.
Josef Martínez seemed to have sealed the win for Miami in extra time, but FC Cincinnati’s Yuya Kubo had other plans, equalizing the score shortly before the final whistle.
Since Messi’s arrival in the United States, he remains undefeated. Even on what seemed like an off day for him, he showcased that he only needs moments of brilliance to give his team a fighting chance.
Inter Miami’s aspirations remain high, especially after the recent additions of Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba. Despite the trio appearing visibly fatigued, much like their teammates, after playing eight matches in just 32 days, their determination remains unwavering.
The game began with Luciano Acosta scoring for FC Cincinnati in the 18th minute, followed by Brandon Vázquez doubling the lead in the 53rd minute. The 25,513 spectators at TQL Stadium, who had gathered for the U.S. Open Cup semi-final, were ecstatic.
Inter Miami will now compete in the final of the US Open Cup, a tournament with a rich history spanning 108 years. They are set to face the winner of the match between Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo on September 27th.
The recent victory in the Leagues Cup and the series of matches in extreme humid and hot conditions seemed to have taken a toll on the team. Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino made four changes to the starting lineup that faced Nashville SC, introducing Leonardo Campana, Diego Gómez, Tomás Avilés, and Jean Mota.
Busquets showed signs of fatigue early on, while Alba took time to make his usual impactful runs. Avilés and Mota seemed out of sync, which was expected given it was their debut match since signing with the team. Gómez, similar to his performances in the Leagues Cup, appeared nervous and lacked precision.
However, Inter Miami dominated ball possession in the first half, holding onto it for nearly 70% of the time. Post their goal, Cincinnati adopted a more defensive stance.
The second half saw Miami’s spirit wane further after Vázquez’s goal, but Messi’s brilliance shone through as he set up Campana for a goal. Cincinnati had opportunities to seal the deal, but luck favored Miami when a goal by Cincinnati was disallowed in the 74th minute due to a handball.
Inter Miami’s performance improved with five substitutions made by Martino in the second half. The game-changing moment arrived in the 94th minute when Messi, once again, assisted Campana, pushing the game into extra time. Here, Martínez quickly put Miami ahead.
Inter Miami is set to face the New York Red Bulls this Saturday, marking Messi’s first regular-season game in the MLS.