FRISCO, Tex. — The world champion’s team was in trouble for the first time since Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami. After an hour, FC Dallas had a 3-1 lead in the Leagues Cup round-of-16 match between the two teams at Toyota Stadium. This was Messi’s first away game since joining the MLS team. It was a hot summer day in Texas.
But Messi did what he usually does: He found a way to help his team win. In the 80th minute, FC Dallas was ahead by two goals. Messi sent in a free kick headed for an own goal by FC Dallas. He then sent one of his trademark direct free kicks into the top corner of FCD goalkeeper Maarten Paes’ net to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to a penalty shootout.
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Messi scored the first penalty at the spot. This was the first of five successful kicks for Inter Miami, which won the shootout and moved on to the Leagues Cup quarterfinals.
“The best player in the world is on our team. We can’t forget about that. When we’re on, the team is hazardous, “Tata Martino, who is in charge of Inter Miami, said after the game. He said that the team is “still a long way from being a team you can trust.”
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Where would Inter Miami be if Messi wasn’t on the team? Martino doesn’t find it to be a beneficial way to think.
“This question is always asked when he goes somewhere. “Someone can bet on what Barcelona or the Argentine national team would have looked like without Messi or anywhere else he’s been,” Martino said. “We’re lucky to have him, and he proved it again today. He’s a crucial player.”
“There’s a free kick in this area most of the time, and I think only when he takes it do you feel it will be a goal. Most of the time, you don’t think a free kick will lead to a goal, but that’s not the case when he has it. 10% of the time you think it won’t be a goal, but the other 90% of the time, it will be.”
Nico Estévez, the manager of FC Dallas, played against Martino on Sunday and went one step further.
“It’s clear that a free kick for him around there is the same as a penalty kick for another player. “That’s it,” said Estévez. “I don’t know what else to say. Everyone can see it, and he always does it the same way. You just have to hope that the ball goes out of bounds or that he falls before he kicks it.
Messi didn’t make many mistakes or stumbles on Sunday night, but many of his Inter Miami teammates did. Facundo Quignon and Bernard Kamungo scored goals for FCD, giving them a 2-1 lead as they entered the locker room.
In the 63rd minute, Alan Velasco’s free-kick from the left wing went through everyone into the Inter Miami goal to make it 3-1. Inter scored again soon after, but in the 68th minute, forward Robert Taylor put the ball into his net because of his team’s foul play.
Martino said, “When someone tries to build a team, many things make you think you’re on the right track and can make it a great team.” “Of course, if you want to be on a great team, you must have character. I believe we did it today. We made many mistakes and couldn’t pass the ball around well, especially in the game’s first hour. However, the team showed heart, which gave us a chance to win.”
It wouldn’t have happened without Messi, and it might not have happened without Benjamin Cremaschi, an 18-year-old midfielder who scored a minute after coming on and made the fifth and final penalty kick.
“Everyone congratulated me, and we were all glad we could come back and win on penalties,” he said. “This is a special time for the club, but we must keep growing. There will be tough games, but we know we can keep fighting until the end.”
That was needed Sunday night from a Miami team that is still coming together and still depends on the best player in the world to get it out of trouble. Right now, it’s not a big deal. Messi did it, and now Inter Miami is in the quarterfinals.