The 66,101 in attendance at Bank of America Stadium saw Lionel Messi’s return to the starting lineup go to waste as Charlotte FC defeated Inter Miami 1-0.
Miami did not make the playoffs, but Messi captained the team and played the full 90 minutes and more on artificial turf in a meaningless game on Saturday. However, the outcome of the game was very important for Charlotte. The squad, only in its second season, made the Major League Soccer playoffs for the first time thanks to a win and other results.
The game was decided by a goal scored by Kerwin Vargas in the 13th minute, but Miami had several opportunities to score an equaliser and eliminate Charlotte’s playoff aspirations.
In the 62nd minute, Messi had a free kick stopped on the post, then at the beginning of the second half, he had a goal disallowed due to offside. The game ended in suspense as Charlotte’s goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina produced many spectacular stops to keep Miami from scoring.
Charlotte qualified for the playoffs as the tenth and last team from the Eastern Conference; they will play the New York Red Bulls in a wild-card round.
When Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba left Barcelona for the Miami Dolphins in July, the team was in last place in the Eastern Conference at 15th. By the end of the season, they had improved to 14th place with 34 points in 34 games. Since Messi joined the team, they have a 4-4 record in the league, with no victories in their last six matches (three losses and three draws).
Inter Miami’s head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino admitted that his club was worn down by their hectic schedule near the end of the season.
Martino, speaking via an interpreter, said, “We had three tournaments and won one.” Everyone on the team had hit rock bottom. That is no justification. That’s the truth, all right.
On Wednesday, a match in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, between Miami and Charlotte ended in a 2-2 tie. After scoring both goals in Argentina’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win at Peru on Tuesday night, Messi sat out Miami’s final home game of the MLS season on Wednesday.
Messi, a seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best player, is slated to suit up for Inter Miami on November 5 and November 8 for two exhibition matches in China. This will be Inter Miami’s first ever international trip. After Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers on November 16 and 21, Messi is expected to have a lengthy break before Inter Miami begins 2024 preparations.
Messi scored 11 times for Inter Miami in 14 games this season. The team went 8-2-4 during that span, with seven of those victories coming in a row while they were on their way to winning the Leagues Cup for the first time in club history. He played in five Major League Soccer games, starting three of them, and scored once.
An injury to Messi’s leg prevented him from finishing the season, effectively ending Inter Miami’s postseason hopes. Since Messi’s arrival, Miami has gone 1-1-3 in their seven matches without him. On October 7, he got some playing time off the bench for Inter Miami as they took on Cincinnati, but ultimately fell 1-0, eliminating them from playoff contention.