Messi can’t stop scoring as Inter Miami storm into the Leagues Cup final against Nashville

August 17 – Lionel Messi scored his ninth goal in his sixth game for Inter Miami as they stormed past Philadelphia Union into the final of the Leagues Cup earlier this week.

Messi’s impact in North America is running out of adjectives to describe what has been a stunning entry into US football, taking a team that was rock bottom of the MLS and without a win in nine games, into the final of an international club competition and automatic qualification for the Concacaf Champions Cup.

For all the talk of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer playing in the greatest club side of all time at the New York Cosmos in the 1970s in the North American Soccer League, no player has had the mercurial impact in the US that Messi is having on the field, and off it, at Inter Miami. It is a brightness that has infused energy throughout the whole MLS and wider into Concacaf’s Spanish speaking base.

The Leagues Cup is Inter Miami’s first qualification for Concacaf’s top tier club competition, and if they win the final against Nashville at the 30,000-seat Geodis Park on Saturday, the club’s first major title.

Inter Miami came out the gates at pace against the Union, scoring through Josef Martinez after just three minutes before Messi put them 2-0 up on 20 minutes. They ran out convincing winners 4-1.

Messi has scored in every match he has played for Inter Miami. Every game has been sold out with the 19,778 at Philadelphia’s Subaru Park a record for that stadium. They could have sold more if the capacity had been larger.

Tickets on the secondary markets for Saturday’s final are already selling for more than $500.

Such is the blinding light that Inter Miami and Messi are generating you could almost forget that they have an opponent in the form of Nashville.

In their semi-final Nashville beat Mexico’s best Monterrey, 2-0. Mexican club sides have generally dominated Concacaf’s regional club competition, but MLS teams are rapidly waking up to the idea that competitive international competitions are good business. The Leagues Cup, in its inaugural season, has seen the MLS and LigaMX break for a month cross-league battle involving all their teams from both leagues.

Nashville, like Inter Miami, only began play in the MLS in 2020. While Inter Miami’s on-field performance has seen an overnight turnaround with the arrival of Messi and co, Nashville’s success has been built the hard way though good football management and season-by-season improvement.

Going into the semi-final Monterrey were the clear favourites having impressed through the group stages and two knock-out rounds. At half time the score was 0-0 before Nashville’s Sam Surridge put the Music City team ahead in the 67thminutes. Fafa Picault made it 2-0 in the seventh minute of added time.

Now attention turns to the visit of Messi and Inter Miami.

“They’re playing such good football, they’re scoring goals, they look a side that’s unrecognisable from a month ago. I’ve never in all my time in football seen a transformation of a team that we’re currently seeing,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith.

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