Lionel Messi keeps scoring goals, and Inter Miami keep winning. Messi scored from 30 yards out in the 20th minute as Miami beat the Philadelphia Union 4-1 in the Leagues Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner scored his ninth goal in six matches with his new team in front of a lively crowd, with some tickets soaring past $1,000 on the resale market.
There were few complaints even from the Union, who received more worldwide attention on one night than in any game they’ve played in their history.
Fans – many of them Union supporters – erupted when Messi was introduced and went wild again when he scored past Andre Blake, who perhaps could have done better. Messi ran with his arms extended and then punched his fist in the air as he leapt in celebration.
The rest was almost incidental. Jordi Alba and Josef Martínez also scored in the first half for Miami, and David Ruiz scored in the second. Miami will play in the Leagues Cup final on Saturday against either Nashville or Mexican club Monterrey. The competition is comprised of teams from MLS and Liga MX.
Alejandro Bedoya scored in the second half for Philadelphia.
Union principal owner Jay Sugarman told the Associated Press there was no real consideration given to moving the game from Subaru Park to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. While the NFL stadium would have packed in another 40,000-plus fans, Sugarman said Union coach Jim Curtin told him the game would stay put.
“We have a great relationship with the Eagles, a bunch of them are going to be here tonight, but this is a meaningful tournament with a lot on the line,” Sugarman said. “We want to win trophies and when Jim says this is the place we’re going to win, then that’s where we’re playing.”
The game sold out in less than 10 minutes and the price exploded this week on the secondary market. River End seats that normally go for $43 surged to more than $1,000, and the average resale price of $556 was the highest in Union history.
Outside the stadium, it was Messi Mania for the Argentinian, who led his country to the World Cup title last year.
Angel Pagan and her family, of Vineland, New Jersey, all wore Messi shirts – even though they are Union season-ticket holders. Their youngest son is named Lionel in Messi’s honor. She upgraded her tickets for the game to sit closer to the field and said only they were “very, very expensive.”
“We didn’t care what it cost,” she said. “It’s Messi.”
Under Curtin, in his 10th season as the team’s coach, the Union blossomed into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and clinched their first Supporters’ Shield trophy – awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record – in 2020. Last season, the Union fell to LAFC in the final of MLS Cup.
The Union’s path – and all other teams’ – to an MLS championship suddenly seems complicated by Messi’s arrival.
“This is a fantastic league with a growing fanbase, but you always need that match to really light it,” Sugarman said. “Messi is the match.”