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Inter Miami’s play-off hopes are officially over after Lionel Messi failed to inspire his team to victory in a must-win match against Cincinnati, with fellow Argentinian Alvaro Baréal scoring late to set up a goal. to end the World Cup winner’s debut season in the MLS.
Messi, who was doubtful for this weekend’s match in South Florida, came on in the 55th minute for defender Tomas Aviles in an attacking substitution on Saturday evening, with the score still 0-0 at the time.
But about 23 minutes later, Barreal scored on a fine save from Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callendar, giving all three points to MLS’ Eastern Conference No. 1 Cincinnati.
Inter Miami (9-17-6, 33 points) was eliminated from the playoffs due to their loss coupled with CF Montreal’s win over the Portland Timbers.
The 36-year-old Messi played on Saturday evening for the first time since September 20, after missing two weeks with an aggravated scar tissue injury in his leg. He couldn’t capitalize on a few chances at Cincinnati’s end when he came on as a substitute in the second half.
Lionel Messi and Inter Miami couldn’t keep their play-off hopes alive with a 1-0 defeat vs. Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) continued the best season in their young franchise history. They had already achieved the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record in the regular season.
Roman Celentano made two saves for Cincinnati. Callender had five saves for Miami.
Inter Miami had possession for 61.6 percent of the match, but only two of their 16 shot attempts were on target.
Inter Miami controlled the game in the first half, hitting the woodwork three times. Aviles hit the crossbar head-on from the center of the penalty area, Josef Martinez pinged the far post with a shot and Benjamin Cremaschi’s close-range shot went off the crossbar before the end of the scoreless first half.
When Messi came on ten minutes after the break, he quickly got a free kick within scoring range in the 59th minute, but he sent his effort well over the bar.
Cincinnati finally broke through by getting a steal on Miami’s end. Yuya Kubo moved in and shot at Callender, who parried it to his right. But Barreal burst in at that end and easily put the ball in the net for his fifth goal of the season.
In the 87th minute, Messi had a left-footed shot through some traffic, but it dribbled past the net and was offside.
Messi made two late mistakes near the penalty area, one in the 90th minute and one in stoppage time. On the first free kick, Messi tried to cross the ball to a teammate and Cincinnati cleared the ball, resulting in a fruitless Miami corner.
In the latter, Messi’s shot on goal went over the crossbar again.
More to follow…