Inter Miami and Lionel Messi once again exceeded expectations on Wednesday night, by turning around a late deficit into a victory in a penalty shootout in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
Messi’s two assists and successful shootout effort were crucial in the comeback, saving his prospects of completing the treble in his debut season.
United States men’s national team striker Brandon Vazquez extended the advantage with a low, powerful shot from outside the box after FC Cincinnati star Luciano Acosta’s deflected effort slipped by Leagues Cup hero Drake Callender at the near post in the 18th minute.
However, Messi, who had trouble finding space during the majority of the game, gave Inter Miami the lead in the 68th minute with a floating free-kick from the wing that found the head of a charging Leonardo Campana with plenty of space to spare. It was the kind of situation that Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan had foreseen in his team’s defensive breakdown.
Before the game, Noonan observed, “You might spend 89 minutes doing the best job you can to stop an important player. “And he still has the ability to change the game with the spectacular in a single instant, even with the right defensive structure, the right numbers around the ball.”
In stoppage time, Cincinnati then briefly lost concentration. Off Messi in midfield, they stumbled. He smoothly lifted a long pass over the top of the defense as if it were practice, giving Campana another easy finish to tie the game at 2-2 and force overtime.
Inter Miami improved as their confidence increased as they have done frequently over the previous month. At the same time, Cincinnati seemed to disappear. Early in extra time, defender Matt Miazga took the ball away. Inter Miami wunderkind Benjamin Cremaschi, then 18 years old, sent a pass to Josef Martinez, who then scored to give Inter Miami the lead.
For Inter Miami, Martinez had been somewhat of a forgotten man. Early in 2023, the former Atlanta United MVP was the hot new addition, but Messi mania has forced him to take a backseat. His strike served as a reminder of how crucial he can be in the campaign’s closing stages.
When Yuya Kubo took on a ball at the edge of the box and curled it into the far side of the goal in the 114th minute, Cincinnati tied the score at three. Sergio Busquets was unable to close him down in time.
Only days after upsetting Nashville SC in a shootout, Inter Miami made all five of their extra points to win the match.