As Inter Miami’s tenuous postseason aspirations were dashed by a scoreless draw against Nashville on Wednesday, FC Cincinnati seized the lead into the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Cincinnati defeated Atlanta 2-1 with to goals from Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez in the second half. Atlanta had taken the lead in the 10th minute thanks to Colombian Edwin Mosquera’s first MLS goal for the visitors.
The Eastern Conference leaders now have 57 points and the top spot in the MLS Cup playoffs with eight games left in the regular season thanks to Cincinnati’s first win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Miami, however, made little progress in their improbable quest to qualify for the playoffs as they went without scoring for the first time in their previous ten games under Messi.
Since signing with Inter Miami, the Argentine star has scored 11 goals in nine games, including Inter Miami’s march to the Leagues Cup title, a US Open Cup semifinal, and his regular-season debut coming off the bench in New York on Saturday.
He was unable to perform on Wednesday in front of another star-studded audience at a windy DRV PNK Stadium, where boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and FIFA president Gianni Infantino were among the attendees, suggesting that the strain may have finally caught up with him.
With 10 games left, the draw put Miami 10 points outside of the last playoff berth.
On Sunday, they make a cross-country trip to face MLS Cup winners Los Angeles FC.
After coming off the bench in the 60th minute of the last game in New York, Messi and former Barcelona colleague Sergio Busquets both began this one.
Miami had in possession for the most of a difficult first half, but they were unable to generate quality opportunities against Nashville’s organized defense.
Miami supporters were on the edge of their seats as Messi, after drawing a foul from Nashville’s Dax McCarty, stepped up to take a free kick in the 60th minute. However, Nashville goalkeeper Elliott Panicco saved Messi’s attempt in the bottom left corner.
Hany Mukhtar of Nashville had a score disallowed in the 69th minute due to an offside ruling.
In the 83rd minute, Messi was awarded another free kick from a risky position, but this time, his strike harmlessly deflected off the defensive wall.
In Atlanta, Mosquera scored quickly for the home team after a cross was deflected.
With his 13th goal of the year, Acosta evened the score in the 75th minute. He did this by slipping past two defenders and passing to Junior MOreno, who headed the ball down to Acosta, who then beat Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a one-time shot into the top corner.
Acosta picked up the ball in midfield and sent it to Alvaro Barreal on the left flank five minutes later. Vazquez was the recipient of Barreal’s pass and scored Cincinnati’s 17th win with his fifth goal of the year.
Cincinnati got further closer to the New England Revolution’s 73-point single-season MLS record established in 2021.