Six games, nine goals, one finals appearance. Lionel Messi continued to amaze Tuesday night in Inter Miami CF’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union in the semifinals of the Leagues Cup at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
First-half goals from Messi, Josef Martínez and Jordi Alba staked the visiting team to an insurmountable lead as Miami marched into the inaugural Leagues Cup final, winning every one of its games since the Argentina World Cup champion joined the club in July.
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Gerardo Martino’s team will face Nashville SC, a 2-0 winner over Liga MX club Monterrey in the late semifinal Tuesday night. They’ll play in the final Saturday night in Nashville.
Miami also clinched a spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup — a first in the team’s history — by reaching the final.
“The team has reached the final of an international competition,” Martino said. “One of the goals was qualifying for Concacaf Champions Cup. Now we have to prepare to try and win the championship if possible. We are motivated and confident, but we are also focused on doing everything to get better. We want to make this club very competitive.”
For opposing manager Jim Curtin, it was more disappointment, with the Union having lost on penalties in last year’s MLS Cup final, exiting in the semifinals of 2023 Concacaf Champions League this spring and losing in the 2021 MLS Eastern Conference finals.
“Takes a complete team effort to have a chance against a team like Miami,” Curtin said after the match. “First 20-30 minutes, made too many mistakes, they punished us. It wasn’t us that first half, but they’re very good.
“Hard to lose and concede four goals, that part hurts. Doesn’t feel normal to walk off that pitch after conceding four.”
As Miami has done throughout the Leagues Cup, it scored early and never looked back. Martinez’s goal shortly after kickoff marked the fifth time it had scored in the first 15 minutes of a Leagues Cup match.
Messi then doubled Miami’s lead with the second-longest goal of his career, catching Union keeper Andre Blake out with a low line drive from 31.8 meters out for his ninth goal of the Leagues Cup.
With the Union, who haven’t lost a game at home all season, looking to get into the locker room down two goals, Alba gave Miami its third. The former Barcelona star snuck in behind the defense and ran down a through ball from Robert Taylor, then calmly fired past Blake to make it 3-0.
“The impact that Leo, [Sergio Busquets], Jordi have had on the group, they pass on this confidence to the young players, and they have this commitment related to the game,” Martino said. “[Busquets] is working a lot, especially to recover balls, this is infectious to his teammates.
“The team has changed. Today we have a more competitive roster that creates difficulties for the coach to create a lineup. The younger players growing little by little. This is great for any team.”
Chris Donovan missed a wide-open chance to get Philly on the board and then saw his goal-bound header saved by Miami keeper Drake Callender early in the second half as the home side tried in vain to get back in the game.
Alejandro Bedoya managed to pull one back for the home side later in the second half, but substitute David Ruiz scored Miami’s fourth of the night to put an improbable comeback well out of reach for Curtin’s team.
Since Messi’s arrival in Miami, the team has scored 21 goals in six games — netting four in four of those contests. Prior to him getting there, it had managed just 22 in 22 MLS matches.
“Crowd was amazing, great atmosphere. Was there a lot of pink? For sure,” Curtin said. “Going to be like that anywhere [Messi] goes. He is global, the best to ever play our sport. And he’s humble. To produce like he does over and over when he doesn’t have to … he’s a winner.