Sports | August 19, 2023 11:58 pm

Lionel Messi Joined Inter Miami Last Month. He’s Already Won a Trophy There.

Inter Miami CF defeated Nashville SC in a ludicrous, glorious Leagues Cup final

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami celebrate
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal in the 23rd minute against Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup 2023 final.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On July 15, Inter Miami CF announced the signing of Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time. Messi has yet to make his debut in league play; for the last month, the Major League Soccer schedule has been paused so that the entirety of the league, and the entirety of Mexico’s Liga MX, can take part in the Leagues Cup. Since joining Inter Miami, Messi has shifted the team’s fortunes, and on August 19, they faced off against Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup final.

The game was eminently watchable. Messi scored the match’s first goal; Nashville equalized in the second half, and the game went to a penalty shoot-out that went through all 10 field players before the teams’ goalkeepers faced off against one another. Miami keeper Drake Callender scored when it was his turn, then made a spectacular save to deny his Nashville counterpart, Elliot Panicco, when it was his time up. Cue jubilation on the part of Miami. (If it’s any consolation to Nashville, both finalists will play in next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.)

On one hand, Messi’s seismic arrival in MLS is a complicated thing — it’s certainly put more eyes on the league, but it’s anyone’s guess how many of them will stick around when Messi’s time in Miami draws to a close. There’s also something a little absurd about the degree to which Messi’s arrival has transformed Inter Miami, a team that currently has the worst record in MLS, into a squad that will be competing in continental competition in 2024.

To be fair, Messi’s arrival was part of a larger rebuild of the team, about which The Athletic’s Tom Bogert wrote a comprehensive explainer. But for all that anyone tuned in to the Leagues Cup final to see all Messi all the time, what you’d actually see was a little different — namely, a very good game of soccer. Some of that came from watching Nashville’s defense adapt to Messi; some of that came from both teams’ solid mixture of veterans and up-and-coming players both domestic and international.

And then there was this, in the final moments of the game.

At MLS All-Star Week, Messi’s Arrival Scores Plenty of Optimism 

Messi will make his debut for Inter Miami CF on Friday in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul

It’ll be a busy week for Messi and his teammates — they’re set to play a U.S. Open Cup semifinal against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, followed by a regular-season match against the New York Red Bulls on August 26. Will the Leagues Cup win be enough to change this team’s fortunes in league play? We’ll know a lot more one week from tonight.