Lionel Messi’s heroic start to life with Inter Miami CF continued Wednesday evening, powering his new team into another championship match – this time via a penalty-kick shootout victory after a 3-3 comeback draw at FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup semifinals.
The Herons, four days after lifting the Leagues Cup title over Nashville SC, are now eight games unbeaten since Messi joined in mid-July (6W-0L-2D). They will host the USOC final on Sept. 27, earning that honor after Houston Dynamo FC beat Real Salt Lake Wednesday night in the other semifinal.
IMCF, who got the game-winning PK from homegrown Benjamin Cremaschi after a fifth-round save from Drake Callender, went blow-for-blow with the MLS leaders at TQL Stadium. And they got the last laugh from the spot, winning 5-4 after 120 minutes of yet another epic match with the Argentine superstar forward.
Messi put on his hero’s cape in the second half, with his magical left foot the architect of Leonardo Campana’s two headed goals that forced extra time. The Ecuadorian powered in a free-kick service (68’) and dunked home a looping cross at the death (90+7’) to silence the TQL Stadium crowd.
Miami thought they had a winner in the first extra frame, when Josef Martínez (93′) launched his shot past goalkeeper Alec Kann after Cremaschi helped flip a turnover into quick-strike offense. But Cincy substitute Yuya Kubo (114′) punched back as full-time loomed, curling home an equalizer that gave the home side hope.
Before the late drama, Cincy tallied the game’s first two goals through captain Luciano Acosta (18′) and US men’s national team striker Brandon Vazquez (53′). Acosta capitalized on a pinball-like sequence through Miami’s five-man backline, while Vazquez rifled home from 25 yards out past Callender.
But it was Messi and Miami who punched their USOC final ticket, ensuring this breathtaking summer includes another shot at silverware (all with a 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup spot already secured).
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