The Houston Dynamo took full advantage of Lionel Messi’s inability to participate by winning a title on his home ground.
With goals from Griffin Dorsey and Amine Bassi in the first half, Houston defeated Messi-less Inter Miami 2-1 on Wednesday night to win the US Open Cup in front of NBA star James Harden, who is a member of the team’s ownership group.
Inter Miami’s Josef Martinez scored in the last seconds of the second half, but it wasn’t enough, and Messi was left to watch from the team bench.
Due to a leg problem, Messi was not on Inter Miami’s active squad for the game, which marked his fourth absence in his past five games for club and nation combined. It’s also uncertain if Messi will remain out when Inter Miami starts its attempt to qualify for Major League Soccer’s playoffs this weekend.
It “wasn’t prudent” to contemplate playing Messi against Houston, according to Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, but he did say the squad anticipates having him play on Saturday when MLS games begin for the team. Until then, Messi will continue to be assessed.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner missed the team’s 1-1 tie against Orlando on Sunday due to a leg injury that forced him to leave a game against Toronto in the first half on September 20. His absence from a final on Wednesday implies the issue may be more serious than the team has stated. That was the third game he completely missed in the previous two weeks—two for the club and one for his nation.
Jordi Alba, another of Inter Miami’s lauded mid-season additions, is also out for Wednesday. Due to a leg injury, it is questionable whether Alba will participate in next matches.
Messi, 36, was absent from Inter Miami’s 5-2 defeat to Atlanta United on September 16 and Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Bolivia in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match on September 12. He made a comeback for the encounter on September 20, but he didn’t even make it to halfway. He subsequently skipped Sunday’s game.
Even though it started to rain in the Fort Lauderdale area late on Wednesday, thousands of supporters—many of whom were sporting Messi jerseys in either the blue and white of Argentina or the pink of Inter Miami—arrived well before the gates opened for the Cup final, if only to see the team buses pull up.
Maybe they had seen the buses. Because Messi wasn’t on the pitch, some supporters may have experienced costly disappointment. Prices for tickets on secondary markets varied from USD 145 to roughly USD 4,000 approximately an hour before the game, with links to sales pushed on the team’s social media accounts as recently as Tuesday.
Even if it was somewhat lower than on Tuesday, it was still obvious that fans were willing to pay a lot of money in order to witness Messi win another championship on his brand-new home ground. This summer, Inter Miami won the Leagues Cup, defeating Nashville on the road in the championship game.
After previously winning the US Open Cup in 2018, Houston won it again this year. The competition, which began in 1913, matches domestic teams against one another from several US leagues, some of which are even semi-pro. The field for this year has 99 teams.
With three games coming up in the next few days, Inter Miami is still very much in the running to qualify for the MLS playoffs. On Saturday, the squad hosts New York City FC. On October 4, the team travels to Chicago. On October 7, the club returns home to take on Cincinnati. Despite having two games in hand and trailing NYCFC by five points for the last Eastern Conference playoff place going into Wednesday, the matchup on Saturday is still crucial for the standings.
Messi has participated in 12 games for Miami, the most of them in Leagues Cup and US Open Cup play, and will earn between USD 125 million and USD 150 million for Inter Miami over the course of his two and a half year deal. In four MLS games, he has a goal and two assists in addition to his 11 goals and 8 assists.