Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF will be facing off in the Leagues Cup 2023 final on Saturday night. While both have managed to clinch a place in the final, it wasn’t an easy road for either team, as their run was filled with dramatic moments and crucial goals.
Although Inter Miami CF have gone through undefeated and as the top-scoring team of the tournament, the road was not so straightforward. With a new coach in charge and a team that took shape as the tournament progressed, they were nevertheless able to push through the tough moments to seal a historic spot in the final.
The closest Inter Miami CF came to going out
In the Round of 16, the Florida side visited FC Dallas, in what would be their most difficult test across the tournament. At Toyota Stadium, Inter Miami CF came close to being knocked out, until Lionel Messi scored a dramatic free-kick goal in the 85th minute to make it 4-4 and give them the chance to advance on penalties.
When Messi opened the scoring in the 6th minute, it looked as though The Herons would have a clear road to the next round. However, FC Dallas came from behind to make it 3-1 with goals from Facundo Quignon ('37), Bernard Kamungo ('45) and Alan Velasco ('63).
Benjamín Cremaschi pulled one back on 65 minutes, but three minutes later a Robert Taylor own goal handed the Texan outfit their two-goal advantage again. It looked like Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s men were heading for the exit door.
But Marco Farfán's headed own goal in the 80th minute kept them alive and, when everything seemed to be over, Messi converted another masterful free kick in the 85th minute to make it 4-4.
In the penalty shoot-out, only Paxton Pomykal of FC Dallas missed his spot-kick in the shoot-out, which Miami won 5-3.
Nashville FC’s most critical moment
In one of the most exciting matches of the tournament, Nashville SC took on LIGA MX giants Club América. Walker Zimmerman opened the scoring after 61 minutes of play, but Las Águilas soon responded with an equalizer. In the 94th minute, the Mexican outfit scored another goal, that looked to be the game-winner.
But it was new arrival Sam Surridge who kept his team alive in the tournament with a header to level the tie in the dying moments of regulation time: nine minutes into stoppages. The match was level at 2-2 and was heading for a penalty shoot-out.
Club América kicked off the shoot-out and Julián Quiñones scored the first spot-kick. Hany Mukhtar stepped up next for the MLS side, but he missed his shot. Miguel Layún then had the chance to put his team 2-0 up - but he was unable to find the target as well. Surridge then took Nashville SC’s second penalty, and the English striker once again proved decisive by leveling it up.
From then on, neither Elliot Panicco nor Luis Malagón could stop the penalty kicks that followed. The score, so far, was 4-4. The shoot-out was now heading into sudden death territory.
Álvaro Fidalgo converted his, with a shot down the middle, to put Club América 5-4 ahead. It was Jack Maher's turn, and his effort would be the turning point of this dramatic finale. He sent the ball inside Malagón's left post, but the goalkeeper guessed correctly and parried the shot. His teammates soon set off in celebration.
The Club América team would dash towards the hero of the night, who had seemingly sent them to the Leagues Cup 2023 quarter-finals. maher trudged back from the spot where he missed, to where his team-mates were, visibly crestfallen at having missed the sudden-death penalty.
But something wasn’t right. Just as the Mexican side were celebrating, referee Selvin Brown would hand Nashville SC one more chance: the last penalty had to be retaken because Malagón was off his line. The jubilation and happiness of Club América soon turned to protest, and the referee gave a yellow card to Leonardo Suárez for his protests.
Maher then had the chance to go from zero to hero, as he picked up the ball to retake the penalty. Tension fell upon GEODIS Park again, but this time the defender made no mistake, sending Malagón the wrong way to make it 5-5.
Jonathan Dos Santos then stepped up to take his team’s seventh of the game. Panicco stared the midfielder down and opened up his arms. The shot-stopper dived the right way, but the Mexican’s shot would hit the crossbar. The shout-out was still level at 5-5, and everything had changed in a matter of seconds.
Daniel Lovitz could be either the hero or the villain. If he scored, his team advanced. If he missed, it was back to square one. He kept his cool though, and slotted in a left-footed shot to claim a 6-5 win in the penalty shoot-out, sending the GEODIS Park into rapturous celebrations as the team qualified for the Leagues Cup quarter-finals. It undoubtedly the most dramatic moment of the team’s run so far, which they’ll look to cap off this Saturday with a win in the final.