Lionel Messi, the star player of Inter Miami CF, was absent from the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday night due to an injury he sustained while playing for Argentina. His team lost 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo, who claimed their first trophy since 2018.
Messi sidelined by injury
Messi, who joined Inter Miami in July 2023 after leaving Barcelona, had scored 12 goals and provided 10 assists in 18 appearances for the MLS club. He was expected to lead his team in the U.S. Open Cup final, a knockout tournament that involves teams from different levels of American soccer.
However, he was ruled out of the match after suffering a muscle strain in Argentina’s 3-1 win over Colombia in the World Cup qualifiers on September 23. He returned to Miami for further assessment and treatment, but was not able to recover in time for the final.
Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said before the game that Messi’s absence was a big blow, but he hoped his other players would step up and fill the void. “Lionel is a very important player for us, but we have a strong squad and we have to show it. We have to play with confidence and determination, and try to win this trophy for him and for our fans,” he said.
Dynamo dominate first half
The Dynamo, who had finished last in the Western Conference in 2022, had a remarkable turnaround in 2023 under new coach Tab Ramos. They reached the final of the U.S. Open Cup by beating Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy along the way.
They started the final with a high intensity and put pressure on Inter Miami’s defense. They opened the scoring in the 17th minute, when Fafa Picault headed in a cross from Memo Rodriguez. They doubled their lead in the 34th minute, when Darwin Quintero converted a penalty after he was fouled by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
Inter Miami struggled to create chances in the first half, as they missed Messi’s creativity and vision. Their only shot on target came from Rodolfo Pizarro, who forced a save from Marko Maric in the 43rd minute.
Miami fight back in second half
Martino made two changes at halftime, bringing on Josef Martinez and Dixon Arroyo for Robert Taylor and Diego Gomez. They injected some energy and urgency into Inter Miami’s attack, and they reduced the deficit in the 52nd minute, when Martinez scored from a rebound after Maric parried a shot from Pizarro.
Inter Miami pushed for an equalizer, and had several opportunities to level the score. Martinez hit the post in the 67th minute, Pizarro had a shot cleared off the line in the 74th minute, and Julian Carranza missed a header from close range in the 81st minute.
The Dynamo defended well and held on to their lead, as they celebrated their third U.S. Open Cup title in their history. They also qualified for the 2024 CONCACAF Champions League, where they will face teams from Mexico, Canada, and other regions.
Reaction and aftermath
Ramos, who won the U.S. Open Cup as a player with the MetroStars in 1998, said he was proud of his team’s performance and achievement. “This is a great moment for us, for the club, and for the city. We worked hard all season, and we deserved this trophy. We played with passion and courage, and we showed our quality and character. I want to thank the players, the staff, and the fans for their support and dedication,” he said.
Martino, who had won the U.S. Open Cup with Atlanta United in 2019, said he was disappointed with the result, but praised his team’s effort and spirit. “We are sad and frustrated, because we wanted to win this trophy for our fans and for Lionel. We had a bad first half, and we paid the price. We tried to come back in the second half, and we had some chances, but it was not enough. I want to congratulate the Dynamo, they played well and they deserved to win. I also want to thank my players, they gave everything until the end, and they showed their quality and character,” he said.
Messi, who watched the game from the stands, said he was proud of his teammates, and hoped to return to action soon. “It was hard to watch the game from the sidelines, I wanted to be on the pitch and help the team. I’m sorry I couldn’t play, but I’m happy with the way the team fought and played. They showed their heart and their talent, and they deserved more. I want to congratulate the Dynamo, they were a tough opponent, and they played a good game. I also want to thank the fans, they were amazing, and they supported us all the way. I hope to recover soon and be back on the field with the team,” he said.
Inter Miami will resume their league campaign on Saturday, when they host New York City FC at the DRV PNK Stadium. They are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, and are aiming to secure a playoff spot for the first time in their history.