The legendary FC Barcelona and Spain national team left back found the scoresheet in first-half stoppage time of Tuesday night’s Leagues Cup semifinal, staking a 3-0 lead at the Philadelphia Union’s Subaru Park.
Alba, picked out by Robert Taylor’s through ball, made a trademark run behind the Union backline before clipping his shot past goalkeeper Andre Blake in the eventual 4-1 victory. Josef Martínez (3′), Lionel Messi (20′) and David Ruíz (84′) also tallied for the visitors.
Nearly 20,000 fútbol fans can say they were there the night Lionel Messi made his mark in Philadelphia. It’s why most of them came for the 7 p.m. match. By 7:30, they had what they came for.
The greatest player the game has ever seen in June agreed to spend his soccer dotage in America’s minor league, but he’d prove to still be a major talent even at the age of 36. He led Inter Miami into Subaru Park on Tuesday night, his sixth game since leaving Europe’s elite soccer sphere, with eight goals in his first five games, all played in the Leagues Cup, a tournament between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX, which brought him to Delco. As such, he’d already set the all-time tournament goal record.
Twenty minutes into the game, he had goal No. 9. It earned him Man of the Match honors. It was the winner, and it sent Inter Miami to the tournament final, and it bounced the Union, and it was beautiful, and it was ugly.
Messi unleashed a modest blast from 35 yards that never made it more than 6 inches off the ground. It wrong-footed astonished goalie Andre Blake, who, somehow, wasn’t able to cover the space between himself and the lower left corner.
Under Curtain, in his 10th season, the Union blossomed into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and clinched their first Supporters’ Shield trophy — awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record — in 2020. A season ago, the Union fell to LAFC in the MLS Cup. Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant thought enough of the Union’s potential to buy a stake in the team.
The Union’s path — and all other teams’ — to an MLS championship suddenly seems complicated by Messi’s arrival.
“This is a fantastic league with a growing fanbase, but you always need that match to really light it,” Sugarman said. “Messi is the match.”
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