North Carolina- On artificial grass, Lionel Messi played the entirety of the last match of the Inter Miami in the campaign, in which Charlotte qualified for the MLS playoffs on Saturday with a 1-0 victory.
Even though Inter Miami was already eliminated from the match on the last day of the regular season, Messi monopolized the spotlight. In the end, the 66,101 spectators at the 74,000-seat Bank of America Stadium celebrated Charlotte’s qualification.
Thousands of those fans wore the shirt with the number 10 of the player who was crowned with Argentina a little less than a year ago in the World Cup in Qatar.
The star was placed as captain and played the entire match, which was not of major importance for Miami. He had three shots on goal and had a couple of scoring opportunities.
He seemed to achieve it in the 49th minute, but the play was invalidated due to offside. His shot at 62 hit the crossbar.
Charlotte instead fulfilled the mission before her followers. The franchise, which is in its second year in the league, needed a victory over Miami and help from other results to obtain one of the two remaining playoff tickets in the Eastern Conference, in a fight that involved five teams.
The Chicago Fire lost 1-0 to New York City FC, while Montreal lost 2-1 to the Columbus Crew, also on Saturday, as Charlotte advanced.
Columbus also sealed its playoff ticket. Chicago and NYCFC were left out.
A goal from Colombian Kerwin Vargas at 13 minutes was enough for Charlotte’s historic victory.
Messi did not play Wednesday in Miami’s final home game of the season, also against Charlotte. That match took place just one day after the star had scored the two goals for the Argentina team, which won 2-0 in Peru, in a World Cup qualifying match.
“Leo” was in the Inter bench area, with his teammates, hours after returning from Lima.
Messi told reporters in the Peruvian capital that he wanted to play one more game for Inter Miami before the conclusion of his debut MLS campaign. This meant playing in Charlotte even though this match was taking place on artificial grass.
Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Messi would also play in the colors of Inter Miami on November 5 and 8, when the club plays two friendly matches in China. It will be the first time that the team goes on an international tour.
Then, Argentina must play another pair of qualifying matches, on November 16 and 21. Once those commitments are met, Messi will have an extended rest before Inter Miami begins preparing for the 2024 season.
Messi has scored 11 goals in 14 games with Inter Miami. The team accumulates eight wins, four draws and two losses when Messi plays. Seven of those games were part of the Leagues Cup, a tournament in which Miami won the first title in its history.
The number 10 of the Argentine team has also appeared in six MLS games, including four starts, in which he has scored a goal. He also played in a US Open Cup semi-final.
“We played three tournaments and won one,” highlighted the Argentine coach of Inter Miami, Gerardo Martino. “The team was exhausted. It is not a pretext, it is reality.”
A hamstring injury prevented him from having more activity and ended his team’s chances of qualifying for the postseason. Miami has a record of one win, three draws and three losses in seven games without Messi, who managed to enter as a substitute on October 7 against Cincinnati, which beat Miami 1-0, eliminating him.
The New York Red Bulls secured their presence in the playoffs, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Nashville. The New York team has advanced to the postseason in 14 consecutive years, the longest active streak in American professional sports.
With a goal from Argentine Luciano Acota, Cincinnati tied 2-2 against Atlanta United and reached 69 points, the highest number in the MLS during this campaign.
Another Argentine, Gustavo Bou, contributed a double as the New England Revolution beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in a duel between two already qualified teams.
In another game, Orlando City beat Toronto 2-0, spoiling captain Michael Bradley’s last game before retirement.