In a thrilling US Open Cup semi-final match, Inter Miami, inspired by Lionel Messi, made a remarkable comeback to defeat Cincinnati 5-4 on penalties after the game ended 3-3 in extra time. This competition, akin to England’s FA Cup or Spain’s Copa del Rey, dates back to 1914 and holds significant importance in American soccer.
Inter Miami, once struggling at the bottom of the league, has transformed under the influence of Messi, who joined the club a month ago along with Spanish players Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. Facing Cincinnati, the top team in Major League Soccer’s standings, Miami appeared to be heading towards defeat, trailing 2-0 with only 22 minutes remaining.
Messi, however, turned the tide by providing two assists to striker Leonardo Campana, equalizing the score and pushing the match into extra time. After being down 2-0, Miami rallied and showed resilience. Cincinnati had taken the lead through Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez’s strikes in the 18th and 53rd minutes respectively.
Messi’s free-kick assisted Campana’s header, reducing the deficit to 2-1. Despite Cincinnati’s attempt to make it 3-1, the goal was disallowed due to handball. With just moments left in stoppage time, Messi’s cross found Campana again, who headed home to force extra time.
During the extra period, Inter Miami took the lead when Benjamin Cremaschi provided an excellent pass to Josef Martinez, who finished clinically. However, Cincinnati responded, and Yuya Kubo’s right-footed shot leveled the score at 3-3.
The match ultimately progressed to a penalty shootout, where both teams were tied at 4-4. Miami’s goalkeeper Drake Callender made a crucial save, blocking Nick Hagglund’s penalty for Cincinnati. Benjamin Cremaschi then converted the decisive spot kick, securing Miami’s place in the final.
Following the victory, 18-year-old Miami-born Benjamin Cremaschi, of Argentine descent, was congratulated by Messi for his match-winning penalty. Cremaschi expressed his astonishment and gratitude for the opportunity he was given.
Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino acknowledged the challenges his team faces due to physical fatigue after a demanding eight-game period. Martino hinted at potential player rotations to manage fatigue, possibly including resting Messi, as they strive to climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to playoff positions.
Looking forward, Inter Miami will face the winners of the semi-final match between Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup final, scheduled for September 27th. This victory marks a significant turnaround for the team, highlighting the impact of Messi’s presence and their collective determination.