Messi's MLS Season Ends with Charlotte Loss
Lionel Messi's first MLS season ended in defeat as Charlotte FC beat Inter Miami 1-0, securing their spot in the playoffs.
Lionel Messi made his return to the starting lineup for Inter Miami, but unfortunately, his first MLS season ended in defeat as Charlotte FC emerged victorious with a 1-0 scoreline in front of a crowd of 66,101 at Bank of America Stadium.
Despite the loss, Messi, who captained the team, played the full 90 minutes-plus on the artificial turf. The game held little significance for Miami, as they had already failed to qualify for the playoffs. However, it was a crucial match for Charlotte, as a win, coupled with other results, would secure their spot in the MLS playoffs for the first time in their second year as a team.
The only goal of the game came in the 13th minute, courtesy of Kerwin Vargas. Although Miami had several opportunities to find an equalizer and dash Charlotte's hopes of reaching the postseason, they were unable to convert.
Messi himself came close to making an impact, with a free-kick that hit the post in the 62nd minute and a disallowed goal for offside early in the second half. In the thrilling final moments of the game, Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina made a series of outstanding saves to deny Miami.
Ultimately, Charlotte finished ninth in the Eastern Conference, securing the final playoff spot. They will now face a wild-card match against the New York Red Bulls.
On the other hand, Miami, who were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference when Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba joined the team in July, finished 14th with 34 points from 34 games. They were winless in their last six league matches, with three losses and three draws. Since Messi's arrival, they had four wins, four losses, and four draws in the league.
Inter Miami coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino acknowledged that his team was fatigued due to their demanding schedule. "We had three tournaments and won one," Martino said. "The team was exhausted. That's not an excuse, but it's the reality."
It is worth noting that Miami and Charlotte had also faced each other earlier in the week, resulting in a 2-2 draw. Messi did not play in that game as he had scored both goals for Argentina in their 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Peru the night before.
Looking ahead, Messi is expected to represent Inter Miami in their upcoming exhibition matches in China on November 5th and 8th. This will be the first foreign tour for the club. Following that, Argentina has more World Cup qualifiers on November 16th and 21st. After these matches, Messi will likely have an extended break before Inter Miami begins preparations for the 2024 season.
Throughout the season, Messi showcased his brilliance with 11 goals in 14 matches for Inter Miami. The team had a record of 8 wins, 2 losses, and 4 draws when he played. Notably, Messi played a crucial role in Inter Miami's triumph in the Leagues Cup championship, where they secured their first-ever trophy. He also featured in five MLS games, starting three times and scoring one goal.
Unfortunately, Messi's season was marred by a leg injury that hindered his performances and ultimately dashed Inter Miami's hopes of making the playoffs. In the seven matches without Messi, the team's record stood at 1 win, 3 losses, and 3 draws. Although he was able to make a substitute appearance against Cincinnati on October 7th, Inter Miami suffered a 1-0 defeat that sealed their playoff elimination.