Inter Miami stole all three points from Cruz Azul thanks to a wonder-strike of a free-kick from Lionel Messi in the 90th minute, kick-starting their 2023 Leagues Cup journey with a win.
Both Inter Miami and Cruz Azul went into the game last in their respective divisions, but none of that mattered as there were more pressing matters at hand. The main storyline going into the game was obvious: Lionel Messi (and Sergio Busquets) making their debuts for Inter Miami at DRV PINK Stadium in front of a packed out crowd.
But Cruz Azul came into the game with a chip on their shoulder, regardless of what was surrounding the matchup.
The Liga MX side had several good looks at goal in the early going, but Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender made a couple of good stops to keep the game tied at 0-0.
The Herons opened the scoring through a beautiful strike from Robert Taylor’s right-foot, and the firework show commenced in Ft. Lauderdale. Even though Miami were under tremendous amounts of pressure, they were able to go ahead and Cruz Azul will feel hard done as they were playing quite well up until that point.
In the 54th minute, the moment everyone was waiting for finally happened: Lionel Messi came onto the pitch as an Inter Miami player. Sergio Busquets came on, too. Messi had a few bright moments going forward after he was substituted on, but the honeymoon feeling didn’t last for long as Uriel Antuna rocketed a shot that went off Callender’s gloves into the roof of the net. Game on, Antuna said, with the score knotted at 1-1.
The stage was set up perfectly for Messi. The Herons had a free-kick in a dangerous territory for the 36-year-old’s wand of a left foot. And Messi did what Messi does, curling the ball past everyone including Cruz Azul goalkeeper Andres Gudino. DRV PINK Stadium erupted into pandemonium, as Messi sealed the three points for his side in the 94th minute. What a way to kick-start life at a new club.
GK: Drake Callender – 8/10 – If it wasn’t for Callender stepping up from the first minutes, Miami would’ve been down at least two goals. Continued to make save after save in the second half.
LB: Ian Fray – 5/10 – The young defender struggled early on and unfortunately picked up an injury and was unable to continue.
CB: Serhiy Kryvstov – 5/10 – Didn’t help his goalkeeper out by giving the opposing forwards too much space, but came up with a crucial block on the edge of the box near the end of the first 45.
CB: Kamal Miller – 6/10 – Struggled alongside Kryvstov for long periods but made a great block in the opening minute to deny Cruz Azul from taking an early lead.
RB: DeAndre Yedlin – 6/10 – The USMNT defender switched over to left-back frequently, and was playing high up the pitch for large parts of the first half, trying to make things happen in the final third. He was also caught out in defense a few times.
CM: Dixon Arroyo – 6/10 – Arroyo had the usual performance from a defensive midfielder: nothing flashy but got the job done.
CM: David Ruiz – 6/10 – Had a quiet game in the middle of the park.
CM: Benjamin Cremaschi – 7/10 – The 18-year-old was everywhere in the midfield, pulling the strings and tracking back, making a key tackle in his own penalty box.
LW: Robert Taylor – 8/10 – The Finland international was an unlikely goal-scorer with a brilliant finish from a tight angle.
ST: Leonardo Campana – 6/10 – Started the game in bright fashion with a shot on target, but faltered as the game went on.
RW: Robbie Robinson – 7/10 – His assist will probably get overlooked with the finish from Taylor and the storyline surrounding the game, but he played a perfect diagonal pass that allowed Taylor to cut in on his right foot.
LB: Noah Allen (30′ for Ian Fray) – 6/10 – Filled in nicely for the injured Fray.
ST: Josef Martinez (54′ for Leonardo Campana) – 7/10 – Linked up with Messi on several occasions and made some good runs. The two already have great chemistry.
CM: Sergio Busquets (54′ for David Ruiz) – 6/10 – Immediately linked up Messi after coming on, providing a nice pass through the midfield.
RW: Lionel Messi (54′ for Benjamin Cremaschi) – 10/10 – The greatest sub in MLS history entered the game and had an instant impact. In the dying moments, he scored a picture-perfect free-kick to give Miami the win. Bravo, Leo.
CB: Christopher McVey (74′ for Kamal Miller) – N/A.
Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino – 6/10 – Picked a different lineup that was under tons of pressure early on. But, obviously, having the likes of Messi, Busquets, and Martinez on the bench was a game changer.
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