Six matches, nine goals, one finals appearance. Lionel Messi continued his stunner Tuesday night as Inter Miami beat Philadelphia Union 4-1 in the League Cup semi-finals at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
First-half goals from Messi, Joseph Martinez and Jordi Alba sent the visitors into an indomitable lead as Miami cruised to the League Cup final, winning every game since World Cup champions Argentina joined the club in July.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)
Gerardo Martino’s team will face Nashville SC, a 2-0 winner of Liga MX club Monterrey, in the semi-finals on Tuesday night. They will play on the final Saturday night in Nashville.
Miami also clinched a spot in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup—the first in team history—by reaching the final.
“The team has reached the final of an international competition,” said Martino. “One of the goals was to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, and now we have to prepare to try and win the tournament if we can. We are motivated and confident, but we are also focused on doing everything to improve. We want to make this club very competitive.”
For opposing coach Jim Curtin, it was even more disappointing, as Al-Ittihad lost on penalties in the MLS Cup final last year, were knocked out in the semi-finals of the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League this spring and lost in the 2021 MLS Eastern Conference Finals.
“He makes a whole team effort to get a chance against a team like Miami,” Curtin said after the game. “The first 20-30 minutes, they made a lot of mistakes, and they punished us. It wasn’t us in that first half, but they are very good.
“It’s hard to lose and concede four goals, that part hurts. It doesn’t feel natural to leave this field after conceding four goals.”
As Miami has done throughout the League Cup, they scored early and never looked back. Martínez’s goal shortly after kick-off was the fifth time he had scored in the first 15 minutes of a League Cup match.
Messi then doubled Miami’s lead with the second-longest goal of his career, catching Union goalkeeper Andre Blake with a low shot from 31.8 meters for his ninth League Cup goal.
With Al-Ittihad, who had not lost a home game all season, looking to get into the locker room with two goals, Alba gave Miami their third. The former Barcelona star crept behind the defense and ran in a through ball from Robert Taylor, then coolly shot past Blake to make it 3-0.
“An effect of Liu, [Sergio Busquets]”Jordy’s been in the group, and they pass that confidence on to the young players, and they have this commitment to the game,” said Martino.[Busquets] He works a lot, especially getting balls back, and that’s infectious to his teammates.
“The team has changed, and today we have a more competitive roster that creates difficulties for the coach to create a squad. The younger players are growing little by little. This is great for any team.”
Chris Donovan missed a wide open opportunity to get Philly on the board, then saw his own header saved by Miami keeper Drake Callender early in the second half as the home side unsuccessfully tried to get back into the game.
Alejandro Bedoya pulled one back for the hosts later in the second half, but substitute David Ruiz scored Miami’s fourth goal of the night to put an improbable comeback out of reach for Curtin’s side.
Since Messi’s arrival in Miami, the team has scored 21 goals in six matches – netting four goals in four of those competitions. Prior to his arrival there, he had only managed 22 in 22 MLS games.
“The crowd was amazing, great atmosphere. Was there a lot of pink? Absolutely,” Curtin said. “I would be like this anywhere [Messi] He goes. He’s world class, and he’s the best player to ever play our sport. And he is humble. To produce like he does over and over again when he doesn’t have to…it’s a winner.
“He’s going to the final now, it hurts us that we’re not the ones to go.”
Information from Reuters was used in this story.
“Devoted travel trailblazer. Freelance beer scholar. Passionate analyst. Hardcore twitter fanatic.”