Messi and Miami's MLS Playoff Hopes Dashed in 1-0 Defeat to Cincinnati


Messi and Miami’s MLS Playoff Hopes Dashed in 1-0 Defeat to Cincinnati

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Lionel Messi’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer (MLS) will conclude without a playoff appearance for Inter Miami, as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to FC Cincinnati on Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Messi entered the game in the 55th minute and remained goalless in his fourth consecutive league match since scoring on his MLS debut in the 89th minute. This loss eliminated Miami from playoff contention, with only two games left to play. Messi had missed five of the team’s previous six games across all competitions due to a leg injury.

Fans at DRV PNK Stadium eagerly anticipated Messi’s second-half appearance, and their excitement grew as he entered the match. In the 59th minute, he made an immediate impact, drawing a foul and earning a free kick, but his attempt from 25 yards sailed wide.

Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino assured that Messi was injury-free, but he lacked rhythm due to his recent absence. Messi played 35 minutes in this match.

FC Cincinnati, leading the Eastern Conference, secured the victory with Álvaro Barreal’s goal in the 78th minute. After Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender stopped Yuya Kubo’s shot, Barreal capitalized on the deflection with his left foot from 8 yards.

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Messi had another free-kick opportunity in stoppage time, but his attempt missed wide left.

With this loss, Miami (9-17-6) remained at 33 points with two matches remaining, while eighth-place Montreal strengthened its playoff chances with a 4-1 win over Portland.

Martino, who took over as Miami coach on June 28, expressed his expectations to build the club and secure a playoff spot. Miami went 1-2-2 with Messi out of the lineup. Messi’s last MLS match of the season was likely played after Miami’s elimination, as he has upcoming World Cup qualifying commitments with Argentina.

Since joining Miami on a 2 1/2-year deal in July, Messi scored 12 goals in 13 combined league and cup matches. Miami was 8-0-4 with Messi before the recent loss.

Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) had already secured the top berth in the Eastern Conference and a first-round bye. This victory avenged their previous home loss to Miami in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal on August 23.

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Miami applied consistent pressure during the first half but couldn’t beat goalkeeper Roman Celentano. Tomás Avilés hit the crossbar in the ninth minute, Josef Martinez struck the goalpost in the 24th minute, and Benjamin Cremaschi’s shot deflected off the crossbar in the 24th. Celentano also dove and deflected Facundo Farias’ 20-yard shot in the 30th minute.

With Miami’s season ending soon, Argentina will need to manage Messi’s fitness for upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Peru on October 12 and 17, respectively. Miami’s remaining league matches will be against Charlotte on October 18 and 21, both home and away.


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