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Messi off the mark in Miami draw with Nashville

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Inter Miami CF extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games Wednesday in their first home Major League Soccer game since the arrival of Lionel Messi, but were held scoreless and dropped two crucial points in a 0-0 draw with Nashville SC.

Messi finally had an off night — by his standards — and did not contribute with a goal or an assist for the first time in his Inter Miami era. But he led all players with seven shots and had a golden chance to win the game with just seconds left, but Nashville keeper Elliot Panicco stood tall to deny Messi’s shot taken with his weaker right foot.

The Argentina star had played nine games for Miami since joining MLS in July, and all nine had resulted in wins — six from the run of play and three via a penalty shootout across Leagues Cup, U.S. Open Cup and MLS matches.

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But on Wednesday, Messi’s magical left boot failed to produce a decisive play, and Miami dropped points in its long-odds quest to reach the MLS playoffs. It was the first time Miami was held scoreless since Messi’s arrival.

With Nashville designated players Walker Zimmerman and Sam Surridge not making the trip, and third DP Hany Mukhtar playing just 45 minutes, it was clear from whistle to whistle that their game plan was to keep as many players behind the ball as possible.

It was a tactic that frustrated the Miami players and coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino all evening.

“When you put that many players in the opponent’s box, of course you’ll keep a clean sheet,” said Martino, who also lamented post-game about his lack of time to work with his squad thanks to the compressed schedule since he took over.

“I’ve been with the team for two months, but it’s really been only 50-52 days of actually working with the team. We still haven’t had a full week working with them. Playing every four days hasn’t allowed us enough time to train and really build this group.”

Messi started the game Wednesday along with former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets after the two entered Miami’s previous match against the New York Red Bulls in the 60th minute.

Miami had no shots on goal through the first 60 minutes as the team struggled to break through 7th-placed Nashville’s defense.

Messi attempted a free kick in the 60th minute after drawing a foul on Nashville’s Dax McCarty, but the shot to the bottom-left corner was stopped by Panicco.

Still, Inter Miami fans took out their phones to record the free kick, just in case the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner delivered another goal similar to the one in his debut — when he scored in the 94th minute to give Miami a win over Mexican Club Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup opener.

Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar then had a goal erased by an offside call in the 69th minute.

Messi got another chance in the 83rd minute, but the shot bounced off the wall of defenders.

The draw leaves Miami on 22 points with 10 games to play, 10 points behind the final playoff spot currently occupied by the Chicago Fire. Messi and company will travel to BMO Stadium this weekend for a match against defending MLS Cup champions LAFC on Sunday.

After that contest, Miami will get their longest break in over a month, as they won’t play again until Saturday, September 9th at home against a struggling Sporting Kansas City side.

Unfortunately for Miami, they will be without Messi and as many as 10 other players for that game due to international call-ups.

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