Inter Miami, Led by Messi, Advances to US Open Cup Final After Penalty Shootout Victory

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As fatigue seemed to creep in and opponents started to unravel the tricks, the magic appeared to be waning for Inter Miami. Yet, the hopes of thousands of fans held on, praying that this was just a momentary lapse.

But Lionel Messi found a way, delivering two crucial assists to Leonardo Campana in the dying moments, equalizing the match 2-2 and pushing it into overtime. Eventually, Inter Miami triumphed for the second time in a penalty shootout.

Josef Martínez’s extra-time goal seemed to secure victory, but FC Cincinnati managed a late equalizer courtesy of Yuya Kubo. Thus, Lionel Messi’s unbeaten streak in the United States continued. Even on his off days, he demonstrated that a spark from him is all his team needs to seize victory.

Miami’s pursuit of their second title since the arrival of Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba remained alive. The trio struggled visibly, displaying evident signs of exhaustion, much like their teammates, after playing eight matches in 32 days.

Luciano Acosta opened the scoring at the TQL Stadium in Cincinnati in the 18th minute, and Brandon Vázquez seemingly sealed the victory with a goal in the 53rd minute. This brought joy to a significant portion of the 25,513 fans who attended the U.S. Open Cup semifinal. Miami will now vie for the US Open Cup title, the oldest tournament sanctioned by U.S. Soccer with a history spanning 108 years. They will face the winner of the match between Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo on September 27.

Despite winning the Leagues Cup just last Saturday and enduring a grueling series of matches in extreme hot and humid conditions, signs of weariness were evident. Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino made four changes to the starting lineup compared to the one that faced Nashville SC: Leonardo Campana, Diego Gómez, Tomás Avilés, and Jean Mota.

Busquets showed signs of fatigue from the outset, and Alba took time to start exploiting the wing as he had during the Leagues Cup.

Avilés and Mota seemed out of sync with their teammates, which was expected given that this was their first match since signing.

Gómez, much like his performances in the Leagues Cup, appeared nervous, imprecise, and lacking in direction both defensively and offensively.

Nevertheless, the first half saw Inter Miami dominate possession, holding nearly 70% of the ball, as Cincinnati retreated after their goal.

In the second half, it seemed as though Miami was on the brink after Vázquez’s goal, until Messi delivered a perfectly placed ball to Campana, who netted a precise strike.

From there, Inter appeared to improve, but once again, Cincinnati had chances on the counterattack to seal the deal.

In the 74th minute, referee Joseph Dickerson disallowed what seemed to be the goal that would send FC Cincinnati to the final due to a handball.

With the five changes Martino made in the second half, including introducing Robert Taylor (Miller), Josef Martínez (Gómez), David Ruiz (Mota), Facundo Farías (Yedlin), and Noah Allen (Avilés), Inter Miami began to improve.

Finally, in the 94th minute, Messi once again set up Campana, sending the match into extra time, where Martínez swiftly dispatched the home team.

Next up, Miami will face the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, marking Messi’s debut in the MLS regular season.

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