In the first-ever Leagues Cup Final it took 11 penalties for each team for a victor to be crowned. Lionel Messi showed just how good he still is with a stunning 1st half-goal and ice-cold penalty kick as he won the Golden Boot & MVP for this Leagues Cup tournament.
There weren’t many questions on how each time would lineup, especially for Inter Miami. For the entirety of this tournament, Miami has stayed unchanged for the most part. For Nashville, the main question mark heading into Saturday night was how Nashville SC’s manager Gary Smith was going to handle Sam Surridge. Surridge had three goals in three matches all coming off the bench. You want your best players on the pitch and Surridge is certainly one of them but do you fix what has worked thus far? Smith went with Surridge in the starting XI for the first time since his arrival.
Inter Miami got the party started in the 24th minute from who else but Messi. It was a moment of brilliance from the Argentian who gained possession at the top of the box danced past Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman and while fading away fires it into the top corner to make it 1-0. Nashville had numbers back and quite frankly did well pushing Messi further and further away from the goal but even when you defend perfectly you can only do so much against the greatest player of all time.
Nashville SC would head into the locker room at halftime trying to figure out they can climb themselves back into the 1-0 game. Surridge & Hany Mukhtar both weren’t at their vintage selves which made you think would someone else be able to step up and tie the match. One thing Nashville can always rely on are corner kicks & set pieces to give them serious chances against any team they come up against. Which is exactly what happened to Miami. Nashville SC’s corner kick in the 57th minute led to one of the scrappiest goals you will see in the game of soccer. What looked like a game of pinball in the box somehow ended up in the back of the net after Nashville SC’s Fafa Picault would have the final touch. Although both teams had numerous opportunities to score the match-winning goal, penalties were needed to break the deadlock between these two teams after 90+ minutes.
There aren’t many other words than dramatic to describe the shootout to decide the winner of the Leagues Cup. Only one outfield player from each team missed a penalty after 10 attempts. Which meant both goalkeepers were forced into attempting one each. Inter Miami Drake Callender had no problem blasting his penalty into the roof of the net. Which put all the pressure on Nashville SC’s goalkeeper Elliot Panicco. Panicco had been the hero all tournament long however, his penalty being saved put the Leagues Cup trophy into the hands of Inter Miami.
For Nashville SC they gave a good account of themselves against an extremely hot team led by the greatest player of all time. It seems like they found themselves offensively and specifically finding the striker they have so coveted since joining Major League Soccer. Although they won’t see the positives now this Leagues Cup run could make all the difference for the 2nd half of MLS league play.
Patton Cook / WNSR Columnist
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