Inter Miami held to draw with Nashville in Messi's home MLS debut

ByRoss Devonport ESPN logo
Thursday, August 31, 2023

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -Inter Miami CFextended their unbeaten streak to 10 games Wednesday in their first home Major League Soccer game since the arrival ofLionel Messi, but were held scoreless and dropped two crucial points in a 0-0 draw withNashville 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 keeperElliot Paniccostood 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 playersWalker ZimmermanandSam Surridgenot making the trip, and third DPHany Mukhtarplaying 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 formerBarcelonateammateSergio Busquetsafter the two entered Miami's previous match against theNew York Red Bullsin 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'sDax 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'sHany Mukhtarthen 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 theChicago Fire. Messi and company will travel to BMO Stadium this weekend for a match against defending MLS Cup championsLAFCon 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 strugglingSporting Kansas Cityside.

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

Before Wednesday's draw, Inter Miami showed off their newly-acquired Leagues Cup trophy to their home fans. Co-owner Jorge Mas had some words to say about his club winning their first title before Messi and previous captainDeAndre Yedlinraised the cup to all four sides of the DRV PNK

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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