In a thrilling match that kept fans on the edge of their seats, Inter Miami defeated Nashville SC in a penalty shootout that ended 10-9, breaking a 1-1 deadlock in the Leagues Cup final on Saturday night in Nashville, Tennessee.
Only seven matches into Lionel Messi‘s journey with Inter Miami and Major League Soccer (MLS), the Argentinian superstar played a pivotal role in securing the club’s first championship since its induction into the league in 2020.
Despite the almost predestined outcome of a formidable player joining a previously unassuming MLS team, the Leagues Cup final proved to be an arduous contest. Messi’s contribution was undeniable, exemplifying his impact on the match.
The first half saw Messi put Inter Miami on the scoreboard in the 23rd minute, but Nashville’s Fafá Picault leveled the playing field with a goal in the 57th minute. As the clock ticked down, both sides came agonizingly close to sealing the victory, setting the stage for an intense penalty shootout that ultimately required a total of 22 spot kicks to determine the winner.
Gary Smith, the coach of Nashville SC, acknowledged Messi’s influence, stating, “You’re looking at the greatest player on the planet possibly being the difference on what happened today.”
The individual accolades continued to flow Messi’s way as he secured the Leagues Cup top scorer and best player awards, a testament to his exceptional performance throughout the tournament. The tournament’s best goalkeeper honor was bestowed upon Inter Miami’s Drake Callender, who made crucial saves during the tense moments of the final, including blocking two shots from reigning MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar and the final penalty kick by Nashville’s Elliot Panicco.
With the final whistle, celebrations erupted on the pitch. Messi’s teammates jubilantly lifted him into the air, while coach Tata Martino and his staff exchanged embraces filled with both joy and tears on the sidelines. In the stands, Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham shared an emotional moment with his wife Victoria and fellow co-owners Jorge and Jose Mas, witnessing their vision of Messi’s impact on the Miami team materialize.
Tata Martino, who previously coached Messi during his tenure with FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team, expressed his admiration for the hard-fought victory, saying, “It was a tight game for both teams. Any team could have won it. I was very impressed with the win. We came together.”
Inter Miami’s championship triumph not only brought a sense of accomplishment but also secured a $2 million prize and an automatic entry into the Round of 16 in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup.
Soccer enthusiasts won’t have to wait long to witness Messi’s magic once again, as Inter Miami is set to compete in a U.S. Open Cup match against Cincinnati on Wednesday, followed by the resumption of MLS regular season play against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, August 26th. Despite the victory, Martino emphasized the need to maintain focus, saying, “This one is in the past, and we’re dreaming about the match against Cincinnati on Wednesday.”