Lionel Messi leads Inter Miami in 3-1 win over Nashville, exits early because of leg injury


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi had a goal and an assist before leaving the game due to a leg injury as Inter Miami beat Nashville 3-1 in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup round-of-16 matchup on Wednesday night.

Messi found his former Barcelona teammate, Luis Suárez , in stride for a goal that opened scoring in the eighth minute. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner then added a first-half goal to give Inter Miami an early 2-0 lead.

The Argentine superstar checked out of the match in the 50th minute. Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after the game that Messi is dealing with a mild leg injury that started bothering him during the game, so the team took him out as a precaution.

He had rested during Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Montreal, which is the only game he has missed this season.

Martino said Messi will likely miss the team’s MLS match Saturday against D.C. United.

“I don’t want to risk it,” Martino said. He added that Messi will undergo tests, and the team will evaluate from there.

Messi was replaced Wednesday by Robert Taylor, who scored in the 63rd minute to give Inter Miami a 3-0 lead.

Inter Miami advanced to the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals with the win and 5-3 advantage in aggregate goals in the total-goals series.

The teams had tied in the first leg in Nashville last Thursday. Messi scored in regulation, and Suárez scored the tying goal in stoppage time to rally Miami to a 2-2 draw. Messi went down late in regulation of that game when Nashville defender Lukas Macnaughton stepped on his left calf. A trainer checked on Messi, who remained on the pitch.

He had been listed as questionable with a shin injury entering Sunday’s game against Montreal, but Martino said after that match that the plan was always to rest Messi for that game.

The rest seemed to bode well for Messi’s performance Wednesday, as he wasted no time making an impact.

He earned a free kick after a foul by Nashville’s Aníbal Godoy just four minutes into the match, but had his attempt blocked. The 36-year-old seized his opportunity a few minutes later, using his impressive vision to fit a pass to a streaking Suárez, who sent the ball into bottom right corner of the net.

Messi then used a pass from Diego Gómez to score from inside the penalty area as fans started chanting his name. Taylor later got on the board with a header off an assist by Suárez.

“Lionel Messi himself was very, very sharp in the first 15 minutes,” Nashville coach Gary Smith said after the match. He was then asked his thoughts when he saw Messi trotting off the field early in the second half.

“Firstly, thank goodness,” Smith said jokingly. “He’s such a huge influence on the rest of the group. Yes, they have other very good players, but there is no one that can do what he can do. … Delighted to see him go off, I honestly thought that their performance dipped, and it gave us a little bit of an incentive.”

Nashville had a chance late in the second half when Hany Mukhtar got past Miami’s defense and sent a shot into the back of the net. Officials overturned the goal after a lengthy review, ruling that Mukhtar was offside.

Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender, coming off a disappointing performance against Montreal, had two saves before giving up a goal to Sam Surridge in stoppage time.

Wednesday was the fourth time that Smith’s Nashville club has faced Messi since he joined Inter Miami and MLS last summer.

They’d played to three draws before Wednesday — the first of which Miami won 10-9 on penalty kicks in the 2023 Leagues Cup final. Messi scored early in regulation and converted the first shot in penalty kicks as Miami won its first trophy.

“It’s a never-ending conundrum,” Smith said ahead of Wednesday’s match. “You try and set up a group to try and limit what he’s able to do. He’s proved throughout his career at the very best levels that no matter how good you are defensively, or how well-organized, the caliber of the individual will always find a way.”



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