Lionel Messi hopes to bring Inter Miami their first ever trophy in Saturday’s Leagues Cup final against Nashville (Megan Briggs)
Lionel Messi could clinch his first trophy with Inter Miami, just four weeks after making his debut for the club, when his team face Nashville in the final of the Leagues Cup in Tennessee on Saturday.
The Argentine World Cup winner has had a transformative impact on the club, scoring nine goals in six games, as they have marched through the new summer tournament, which also includes Mexican Liga MX clubs.
Now he has the chance to quickly get some American silverware to add to the huge collection of trophies he has gathered with Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and the Argentine national team.
“It would be great, incredible for me, for the fans, and for the club itself. The club is trying to grow and investing a lot, with major changes to put together a team, and winning titles helps a lot,” Messi said.
“It’s a very young club…it would be beautiful for everyone,” he added.
With a goal from Messi in every game and open, attacking football from Miami, the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner has turned a competition which could have been a mid-season curiosity into must-watch action for broadcasters Apple TV.
He has also inspired a turnaround in fortunes for Miami which has been faster and more impactful than even the most optimistic Miami fan expected.
When Messi arrived in South Florida he joined a club rooted to the bottom of the standings in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference and with the worst record of any of the 29 clubs in the league.
But with the Spanish pair of former Barcelona team-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba also joining him at the club, Miami have been unstoppable.
Only once in the six games in the tournament did Miami fail to win — a comeback 4-4 draw at Dallas which ended in victory after a penalty shoot-out.
In the semi-final, the team showed just how radically they have improved, by winning 4-1 at Philadelphia, last season’s MLS runners-up who had been unbeaten at home in their last 15 games.
– Not invincible –
Mexicans Cruz Azul along with MLS’s Atlanta United, Orlando City and Charlotte, have all fallen against the new Miami, but full-back DeAndre Yedlin said there is no question of the team, now coached by Argentine Gerardo “Tata” Martino, being unbeatable.
“I don’t think our team’s invincible. I don’t think, we’re a perfect team but we’re obviously in good form right now,” he said.
“We’re very confident right now but we’ve also only been together for a (few weeks),” he added.
Before flying to Nashville, Martino and his staff showed the team a video of their performance against Philadelphia, highlighting their errors.
“We’ve definitely given teams opportunities and those are mistakes that we have to clean up to become even better. But at the end of the day, we’re confident,” he said.
Nashville are also playing in the final after an impressive run, culminating in a 2-0 last four victory over Mexico’s Monterrey.
Gary Smith’s side have reached the final the hard way with a series of surprise wins — defeating Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati and Mexican giants Club America on penalties before thrashing Minnesota United 5-0 in the quarters.
German Hany Mukhtar and Englishman Sam Surridge have formed an effective attacking partnership while American defender Walker Zimmerman has been impressive at the back.
Englishman Smith is well aware of the task that faces his team however.
“They’re playing such good football, they’re scoring goals, they look a side that’s unrecognizable from a month ago. I’ve never in all my time in football seen a transformation of a team that we’re currently seeing,” he said.
“I do believe that in a Cup final, and at home, we’ll be prepared. There will certainly be no fear in the way that we play. And we’ll try and give ourselves the very best opportunity to do what nobody else has done at the moment, which is beat Miami.”