Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are pursuing their first championship together.
Messi’s Inter Miami are playing in the Leagues Cup final tonight against Nashville SC at GEODIS Park in Nashville, Tennessee.
Inter Miami and Nashville – both MLS expansion teams in 2020 – are competing for the first title in their short franchise histories. But the stakes feel significantly higher because of the worldwide attention Messi has brought to the MLS and Leagues Cup tournament since his arrival.
Messi already has a goal in tonight’s game, his seventh game with Inter Miami.
Messi has been nothing short of impressive in his first six matches – scoring nine goals, including a game-winning goal in his July 21 debut, and a game-tying goal that forced penalty kicks against FC Dallas on Aug. 6.
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Will Messi Mania continue tonight?
Lionel Messi goal: Inter Miami 1, Nashville SC 0
Lionel Messi does it again.
Messi scored the first goal in the Leagues Cup final in the 23rd minute.
Messi had four defenders around him, and still found space for his left boot to perform its magic.
Messi is now up to 10 goals in seven games in his Inter Miami career.
The goal also is No. 37 in a final in Messi’s storied career.
Highlights from first 20 minutes: Inter Miami 0, Nashville SC 0
∎ Robert Taylor misses Inter Miami’s first shot on goal in the match just before the 21st minute.
∎ Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman misses a header at the next in 17’ with good defense by Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender. Nashville missed its first two shots on goal.
∎ Messi was bumped by a Nashville player in the opening minutes and it was his longtime teammate Sergio Busquets, who came to his defense.
Giannis does Ronaldo’s ‘SIU’ celebration before Messi game
Giannis Antetokounmpo, a minority owner in Nashville SC, scored a goal on the pitch before the game. But his celebration is the news here.
Antetokounmpo celebrated by performing Cristiano Ronaldo’s “SIU” celebration near midfield after his kick hit the back of the net.
We’ll see if Antetokounmpo poked the bear with his antics during the game.
How to watch: Messi, Inter Miami in Leagues Cup final
The Leagues Cup final between Inter Miami and Nashville SC kicks off at 9 p.m., and can be streamed live via the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.
The game will not be broadcast on cable TV.
Predictions for Inter Miami, Nashville SC Leagues Cup final
Here are a few game predictions from members of the USA TODAY Sports staff:
Alicia DelGallo Roman: Messi gets a brace in the first half, Inter Miami wins 2-0.
Safid Deen: Messi and Inter Miami score early and often, 3-1.
Mike Brehm: Nashville wins 3-1.
Jace Evans: Miami has to lose at some point, right? Nashville wins 2-1.
Cydney Henderson: I am going to put my money on Messi and Inter Miami. 4-1!
Celebrities show out at Messi game
The stars are once again out for Lionel Messi, and tonight’s Leagues Cup final between Inter Miami and Nashville SC.
NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is in Nashville’s ownership group, and was on the pitch before the game.
“This is amazing. This is an amazing atmosphere,” Antetokounmpo said.
U.S. Men’s National team alum Landon Donovan was also interviewed on the pitch by Apple TV.
“To see, in my opinion, the greatest player ever on our fields just blows my mind first of all,” Donovan said.
“I was not expecting him to come out of the gate and be so dominant so early, and make everyone around him better. That’s the real sign of a great leader, great captain, great player. He makes everyone else better. And it’s been really fun to watch.”
And actress Reese Witherspoon posed for a photo alongside Inter Miami co-owner and soccer legend David Beckham before the game.
Is Messi playing tonight? Here are the starting lineups:
Messi is in the starting lineup once again for Inter Miami, marking his sixth start in seven games.
Here’s the starting lineups for both teams:
Inter Miami, Nashville ticket prices for Leagues Cup Final
Want to see Messi in the Leagues Cup final in Nashville?
It could cost a pretty penny, based on ticket sales prices skyrocketing for Inter Miami games since Messi’s arrival.
The cheapest tickets available just before gametime: Vivid Seats ($285), StubHub ($397), Ticketmaster ($473).
And the most expensive: Ticketmaster ($3,748), Vivid Seats ($2,299), StubHub ($1,260).
Yeah, that’s per ticket.
How quickly has Messi made impact on Inter Miami
Messi has scored nine goals in six games, while Inter Miami has scored 21 goals during the Leagues Cup. All six games before tonight’s final were victories for Inter Miami.
Before Messi, Inter Miami scored 22 goals in 22 MLS games this season. With their 5-3-14 (W-D-L) record, Inter Miami sits at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference.
“They’re only gonna get better,” Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin said after the 4-1 loss to Inter Miami.
“Their ownership is going to spend like crazy and they’re going to make them the best team in the league, and they might already be one of the best teams in the league. So yeah, that’s coming and I don’t think anything is stopping that.”
Messi and Inter Miami’s last time out vs. Philadelphia Union
It was supposed to be the toughest test yet for Lionel Messi and Inter Miami.
And they aced it with flying colors.
Josef Martinez scored three minutes into the match. Messi scored a long goal off his left foot in the 20th minute. Jordi Alba scored just before halftime. And David Ruiz, 19, scored in the 84th minute to lead Inter Miami to a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union in their Leagues Cup semifinal match on Tuesday night.
How difficult was this challenge supposed to be for Miami? Philly lost just one match in their last 41 contests on their home pitch before their loss to Inter Miami.
Inside Inter Miami’s transformation with Messi
Along with Messi, Inter Miami signed Messi’s former FC Barcelona teammates in Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. They signed Paraguayan international Diego Gómez. They added 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Facundo Farías and 19-year-old Argentine defender Tomás Avilés.
And with the influx of talent, Inter Miami hired Messi’s longtime coach Tata Martino, who coached him with Barcelona and Argentina.
The new additions have elevated Inter Miami’s play naturally.
“We are inspired, motivated and confident. But we are focused on doing everything the team needs to get better,” Martino said after the victory over Philadelphia.
“We are not confused because we’re in the final now. No, we’re focused. We want to make Inter a very competitive team. Even though we’re in the final, we have a long way to go. If we didn’t have this result, we’d be complaining. But we haven’t done everything yet. No team can put together a solid team in 30 days or so.”
What to expect from Nashville SC in Leagues Cup final?
Nashville SC upset Liga MX powerhouse CF Monterrey, 2-0, in the semifinals to reach Saturday night’s final.
Nashville has made the playoffs in each of its three seasons, reaching the MLS conference semifinals in 2020 and 2021.
Among Nashville standout players: Hany Mukhtar, the reigning league MVP, is having a sensational follow-up to his MVP campaign, currently leading MLS with 13 goals. Defender Walker Zimmerman is a two-time MLS defender of the year and a four-time MLS Best XI selection. Fellow defender Shaq Moore, and Zimmerman, were part of the United States’ 2022 World Cup team. Newly signed forward Sam Surridge scored the first goal in Nashville’s 2-0 win over Monterrey in the Leagues Cup semifinals.
What’s at stake in Leagues Cup final?
Inter Miami and Nashville SC — as well as the winner of the third-place game between the Philadelphia Union and CF Monterrey — have earned automatic berths for 2024 into the Concacaf Champions Cup (formerly named the Concacaf Champions League).
However, the Leagues Cup winner will earn automatic qualification to the Round of 16 in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
Messi ‘enjoying the moment’ with Inter Miami
Messi held his first press conference earlier this week, nearly a month after joining Inter Miami.
While moving to South Florida has been an adjustment, Messi said he’s happy with the decision he made to join the MLS franchise co-owned by David Beckham.
“I’m happy enjoying this new stage, and I’m enjoying the experience of living here in this country,” Messi said.
Messi feels he was forced out of Barcelona to PSG
Messi, softspoken and introspective, said his Miami experience so far has been drastically different from previous stops in his illustrious career.
“I chose to come here. I wanted to come here. And it’s a decision we made with time. It wasn’t something we decided one day to the next. We are where we want to be. It’s a decision we made. That makes everything much easier and simpler,” Messi said.
“When I went to Paris, it wasn’t something I wanted. I didn’t want to leave Barcelona. In some ways, it was one day to the next. I had to adapt to somewhere completely different from where I lived all my life. But that’s totally different from my experience here.”
Will Messi play on turf in MLS?
Messi has played most of his historic career on natural grass, creating some discussion on whether he would play on synthetic turf in some MLS stadiums.
Messi appeared open to the possibility to playing on turf.
“All of my lower leagues, I’ve always played on turf,” Messi said. “That was a long time ago and it’s been a long time since I played on synthetic turf. But I have no problem adapting to turf again.”
What is Inter Miami’s remaining 2023 schedule?
Aug. 19: at Nashville SC (Leagues Cup final), 9 p.m. ETTBD (originally scheduled for Aug. 20): vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m. ETAug. 23: at FC Cincinnati (U.S. Open Cup semifinal), 7 p.m. ETAug. 26: at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m. ETAug. 30: vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m. ETSept. 3: at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m. ETSept. 9: vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7:30 p.m. ETSept. 16: at Atlanta United, 7:30 p.m. ETSept. 20: vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m. ETSept. 24: at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m. ETSept. 30: vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m. ETOct. 4: at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m. ETOct. 7: vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. ETOct. 21: at Charlotte FC, 6 p.m. ET
With the exception of the U.S. Open Cup semifinal game on Aug. 23 (which will be available to stream on the CBS Sports Golazo Network), all other Inter Miami games are available to watch via the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.