Despite Nashville putting in a stellar Leagues Cup final performance and cancelling out Lionel Messi’s spectacular goal they lost to Inter Miami on penalties.
With the whole world watching as Inter Miami lifted the Leagues Cup trophy, Nashville SC’s plan to stop Lionel Messi in Saturday’s heartbreaking defeat was really more of a mindset: be itself. The club didn’t want to divert from the tactics that brought it to this point — not even to account for arguably the greatest player of all time.
“I think everything is about confidence, trying to give the confidence, trying to believe in all the work [we’ve] done in the past couple games,” said midfielder Anibal Godoy before the match. “We don’t need to change too much in the way we play … We don’t need to change too much, because if we start to think too much about individual players like Messi, Busquets, or Jordi Alba, or all the players we have, we can [get] in trouble, because it’s difficult to change [our identity].”
The club lost a penalty shootout 10-9 after regular time ended 1-1, but Nashville’s bold plan largely succeeded. It maintained its high-pressure approach to isolate the visitors’ front line from the midfield. Godoy and Co. made a valiant effort, though they conceded to the MLS newcomer in the first half.
Having been contained for the first 22 minutes, unable to receive the ball without dropping deep, Messi ran onto a loose ball bouncing out of the box. Nashville center-back Walker Zimmerman expected him to rush his touch, so he enthusiastically burst ahead to close out the forward.
Messi viewed that as a vulnerability, calmly feinting past him. And no one was stopping the ensuing long-range shot, a missile whipped with his legendary left foot. It was Messi’s seventh straight game with a goal in his dream start to his U.S. career. The 36-year-old ended the tournament with 10.
But Nashville kept pushing ahead and was rewarded in the 57th minute when Fafa Picault deflected in a hectic corner kick. After Messi dented the post in the 67th minute, Nashville nearly executed the perfect counter-attack as reigning MVP Hany Mukhtar set up Sam Surridge, but Drake Callender blocked his would-be go-ahead goal.