The honeymoon isn’t over yet for Lionel Messi and Inter Miami, who reached the U.S. Open Cup final with a stirring victory over FC Cincinnati. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
It was starting to seem like the honeymoon phase was finally over.
But with Lionel Messi on your team, anything is possible.
Inter Miami rallied from two goals down thanks to two Messi assists on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and withstood an FC Cincinnati equalizer in extra time before winning on penalties 5-4 in a match that ended 3-3.
Down a goal late in stoppage time, Inter Miami needed a miracle to keep hopes alive. Luckily for the Herons, they have a player used to pulling those off.
Messi drifted into a little space and picked up his head to deliver an absurdly perfect ball to Leonardo Campana in the box. Just like that, a team that was down and almost out forced extra time after trailing 2-0 against FC Cincinnati.
In extra time, a brutal error from Matt Miazga gifted Miami the ball, resulting in a Josef Martinez goal that seemed like it would be the deciding factor for the visitors from South Florida. But Yuya Kubo added to the chaos in the 114th minute to send the game to penalty kick shootout.
Miami, as it did just days prior in Nashville, prevailed as Benjamin Cremaschi scored the winner to keep this fairytale going.
But it wasn’t without drama as Cincy frustrated Miami and seemed like the better team on the night. Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez got the hosts out to a comfortable lead and forced Gerardo “Tata” Martino to make some adjustments.
Of course, they worked to perfection as seemingly everything has for them in the past month.
Messi, in a game which by his standards was quiet, delivered some life back into a team looking like they were heading for elimination in the 68th minute with his first assist to Campana.
From that moment on you just knew it was far from over because when Messi is on your team, there is always hope. You have to put Miami away when you have the chance, and Cincy was probably seconds away in regulation from handing the new-look squad its first loss.
Instead, Messi came through with more magic. So much transpired in extra time, but none of it would’ve been possible without his brilliance.
Messi’s debut was just a month ago and since then he has a goal or assist in every game he’s played. He scored 10 in seven Leagues Cup games, leading Miami to the club’s first hardware. He contributed with two sensational assists in the win over Cincy.
However, in just his ninth game as a member of Inter Miami, Messi will have the chance to win his second trophy stateside. They await the winner of Real Salt Lake-Houston Dynamo which is currently taking place.