Argentine superstar leads Inter Miami CF to victory in penalties in front of record crowd
By Justin Malone, World News Editor
Despite a heartbreaking loss on penalty shootouts to Inter Miami CF that ended their fairy-tale run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, FC Cincinnati’s valiant effort against the Lionel Messi-led team that culminated in one of the most highly thrilling soccer matches in the Queen City’s history. Following a dramatic 3-3 draw with Miami after extra time, the Orange and Blue fell in the cup’s semifinal game 5-4 on penalties.
Midfielder and team captain Luis Acosta, who currently leads the Orange and Blue with 13 goals in the Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season, kicked off the scoring for FC Cincinnati by picking up a failed clearance effort from Miami defender Sergii Kryvtsov and snapping a left-footed shot that poked off the left post and dribbled into the goal in the 18th minute.
Cincinnati doubled its advantage eight minutes into the second half through an emphatic goal by midfielder and U.S. international forward Brandon Vasquez. After a booted ball passed the Inter Miami midfield, defender Santiago Arias broke down the right wing and found Vasquez at the top of the box. Vasquez collected and found the back of the net on a shot aimed for the bottom left corner.
Miami came back to tie the match with two goals from forward Leonardo Campana in the 68th and seven minutes into the second half’s extra time, forcing the game into extras. Forward Josef Martínez’s goal for Miami and forward Yuyo Kuba’s goal for Cincinnati forced penalties, where Cincinnati lost by one shot.
Even though the hosting side lost, the game meant so much more to both the players and fans of Cincinnati, The arrival of international superstar Messi to Inter Miami’s squad, elevated the team from one of the bottom-feeders of the MLS to one of the most reinvigorated. Since the arrival of their new #10, Miami was undefeated going into their game with the Orange and Blue, and won the U.S. Open Cup just days later.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner comes to MLS and U.S. competition having lifted Argentina to its first FIFA World Cup title since 1986, playing a vital role in his country’s victory over France in Qatar last year. Despite being 36, his presence in the game of soccer is universally known, and his move to play with an MLS team will seem to shape the sport’s direction in North America for the immediate future.
Members of FC Cincinnati were prepared to meet the moment in a balanced, but excited way.
“Once I’m in the game, I’m zoned-in and focused on what I have to do,” defender Matt Miazga said. “I can’t dwell and think about who’s on the pitch.”
FC Cincinnati midfielder and Argentina native Álvaro Barreal noted. “I grew up watching him … so I know how (great) he can be.”
“To play against him, it’s gonna be very hard,” Acosta stated. “You just have to be prepared for the big moments. You have to prepare as a team, not just to play as one.”
The moment was also exhilarating for fans of the game throughout Cincinnati and the country, including Aiden Halverson, a Guest Experience Ambassaor at TQL Stadium and junior exercise science major at Xavier. He remarked, “It was pandemonium… there was a blaze of cheers everytime Messi got the ball,” he remarked.
FC Cincinnati looks to continue their hot streak in MLS regular season play against Philadelphia Union on Sept. 16.