Lionel Messi came through once again for Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup. In a hard-fought thriller that saw four goals for each team, the Argentine scored twice, including an 85th-minute free kick, to help send his team to the quarterfinals.
Sunday’s night game was a reality check for Inter Miami. The team, co-owned by David Beckham, had been living the dream with Messi in its ranks, but rivals FC Dallas reminded them why it was one of the worst-performing teams in MLS before the Rosario-born striker arrived.
Early on, it looked like more smooth sailing for Inter Miami. After FC Dallas had a goal disallowed early on, it was Inter who hit first. Spanish full-back Jordi Alba, making his debut for the team, ran deep on the left flank before putting a pass in behind for Messi, who slotted it in incredibly, just six minutes in.
However, the momentum gradually swung FC Dallas’ way. It would be another Argentine, 30-year-old midfielder Facundo Quignon, who tied it with a volley inside the box. Just before half-time, a quick counter allowed Tanzanian midfielder Bernard Kamungo to make it 2-1 for the Texan team, making it the first time the score had turned against Inter Miami since Messi arrived.
Things got worse for Inter Miami in the second half. In the 62nd minute, a cross from a free kick by Argentine youngster Alan Velasco, 21, somehow missed everyone and slipped into the far post for FC Dallas’ third. Inter Miami responded just two minutes later, as Messi sprayed a pass deep for Alba, who crossed it low for Benjamin Cremaschi,18, to score just minutes after being subbed in.
The action didn’t stop there. In the 67th minute, a cross from a counter by Dallas was intercepted by Robert Taylor, accidentally making it into the back of the net for an own goal and the Texan team’s fourth of the night. It wasn’t the only own goal: in the 80th minute defender Marco Farfan headed one into his own net from a Messi cross, leaving the game 4-3.
With just five minutes left, Inter Miami needed some Messi magic — and they got it. Like in his debut game, it was a free kick by the World Cup-winner that gave the Florida-based team hope, and put him fourth in Inter Miami’s all-time scoring list.
This time it was only enough to make it a tie, meaning penalties were required to decide the series, as the Leagues Cup does not play extra time. There, midfielder Paxton Pomykal missed his penalty for FC Dallas. With all five Inter Miami players scoring theirs, it was a narrow 5-3 win for the Florida team
Despite the loss, Velasco was thrilled at the opportunity. “It is a game that I will never forget in my life. I played against Messi, he gave me his shirt and I gave him a hug,” he told ESPN after the game. Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino was also happy: “I value the character of the team: never give up. We have to take advantage of [Messi’s level] by playing better and not giving away so much”.
Inter Miami now awaits its next rivals, who will come out of the clash between Charlotte FC and Houston Dynamo, played in Houston on Monday at 9 p.m. local time, 11 p.m. Argentine time.