Inter Miami 1-2 Houston Dynamo – Messi absence hurts hosts

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The million-dollar question heading into Wednesday’s US Open Cup final was whether Lionel Messi would play from the start or the bench.

In the end, he did neither. And Houston Dynamo pounced to bring Inter Miami crashing back down to earth in their own backyard.

If this was meant to serve as a Miami parade at DRV PNK Stadium, news of Messi’s absence from the 18-man roster rained on it harder than the torrential downpour which had engulfed Fort Lauderdale earlier in the day.

Thousands of supporters from across the globe made the trip in anticipation of the all-time great working his magic on one of the biggest stages in US soccer. France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane, a guest of former teammate and Miami co-owner David Beckham this evening, was surely one of them.

But Messi had lost his race against time to be fit. An old scar tissue that reared its head and forced him off in last week’s win over Toronto proved too difficult to overcome in such a short space of time, ruling him out of the final entirely.

Houston Dynamo celebrate their brillaint US Open final victory against Inter Miami

Houston Dynamo celebrate their brillaint US Open final victory against Inter Miami

Dynamo spoiled Miami's party in the US Open Cup final on Wednesday night

 Dynamo spoiled Miami’s party in the US Open Cup final on Wednesday night

Lionel Messi was not involved in the final after failing to recover from a muscle problem in time

Lionel Messi was not involved in the final after failing to recover from a muscle problem in time

France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane may well have rocked up to watch Messi

France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane may well have rocked up to watch Messi

From the moment the dreaded news was confirmed, Miami’s chances of victory had shrunk before a ball was even kicked – and without their superstar player at the helm, they showed exactly why in a demoralizing first half devoid of any inspiration.

After a sloppy and slippery opening 10 minutes, which at times proved difficult to watch as wet conditions took their toll, Houston slowly began to exert their dominance on proceedings against a Miami side suffering from stage fright in the absence of its lead conductor.

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As the hosts continued to give away possession cheaply, Nelson Quinones eventually carved out the first decent opening of the night for Houston, latching onto a pass from Andre Bassi and pulling the trigger before a superb sliding block from Kamal Miller denied him.

Over the next five minutes the 21-year-old, a constant threat tonight, would frequently terrorize DeAndre Yedlin down Houston’s left flank. In the 18th minute he left the Miami right-back for dead before drilling the ball across to Corey Baird, whose header sailed over the crossbar.

Miami simply could not get going on their big night at DRV PNK. In the opening 20 minutes, they failed to register a single shot.

Then, just moments after Callender had made an incredible double save to keep them out, Houston finally got what they deserved when Griffin Dorsey rifled home the first goal of the final.

A swift counter-attack upfield first saw Baird pick out Artur on the edge of the box. The Brazilian midfielder shifted the ball over to Dorsey in acres of space, and despite the tight angle his fierce shot flew past Callender’s near post and into the back of the net for only his second goal of the season. What a time to get it.

Having sleepwalked through the opening half-hour, even Dorsey’s opener could not spark Miami into life as they continued to gift possession back to Houston far too easily. The visitors were well in their groove by this point, with the likes of Quinones, Bassi and the excellent Adalberto Carrasquilla combining with a free-flowing swagger throughout.

Miami already had a mountain to climb at 1-0 without the superhuman powers of Messi to save them from the bench. Yet that mountain became all the more towering when Yedlin felled Quinones in the area just after the 30-minute mark.

Griffin Dorsey fired Houston ahead with a superb finish from a tight angle at DRV PNK Stadium

Griffin Dorsey fired Houston ahead with a superb finish from a tight angle at DRV PNK Stadium

Andre Bassithen doubled the visitors' lead from the penalty spot to put them in full control

Andre Bassithen doubled the visitors’ lead from the penalty spot to put them in full control

Messi watched on from the stands as his team chased shadows in the opening 45 minutes

Messi watched on from the stands as his team chased shadows in the opening 45 minutes

The former Premier League defender was caught the wrong side of Houston’s danger man as he was released through in the box, and when he lunged in with a desperate challenge the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

While a boisterous sea of pink shirts did their best to distract him, Bassi kept his composure and made no mistake from the spot, cooly sticking his effort down the middle to double Houston’s lead.

Ben Olsen’s side were in complete control and fully deserving of the two-goal lead which stunned the home crowd into near-silence. Messi, watching on from the stands, must have been doing so through his fingers.

It was only 10 minutes after Houston’s second when Miami finally showed signs of life. Robert Taylor advanced down the right-hand side and floated the ball to Leonardo Campana, who brought it down with his back to goal and teed up Benjamin Cremaschi.

Though to sum up their dreadful showing for virtually all of the opening 45 minutes, the 18-year-old’s shot flew over the bar as the hosts’ first decent chance of the night went begging.

Tata Martino had work to do during the half-time interval. Up until the final few minutes, his side were as flat as a pancake in all areas of the field, bamboozled by the brilliance of Quinones and Co.

Desperate to find a solution, the Inter boss hooked off Taylor and Diego Gomez and opted for Josef Martinez and Dixon Arroyo from the bench.

His changes almost proved a masterstroke early in the second half, with Martinez at the heart of two glorious openings which offered encouraging signs with a long way still to go.

The Venezuelan striker came agonisingly close in the 56th minute with a well-timed header from Facundo Farías’ free-kick, before falling victim to the slippery surface when racing towards goal in a 1-v-1 minutes later.

Miami were second best for large parts of the game as they struggled in wet conditions

Miami were second best for large parts of the game as they struggled in wet conditions

The superb Nelson Quinones (left) caused DeAndre Yedlin problems all night long

The superb Nelson Quinones (left) caused DeAndre Yedlin problems all night long

Shortly after, another quick move upfield worked its way to Cremaschi just behind the penalty spot, only for Houston to react quickly to the danger and block his effort from close range.

Miami certainly huffed and puffed after the interval as the likes of Martinez, Campana and Farias stepped things up a gear. Though for all their efforts, Houston goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell barely had a save to make.

The visitors almost made them pay on the break in the 70th minute, with Carrasquilla’s lob towards the back post briefly worrying Callender before the ball went out of play.

Quinones then thought he had put the final nail in Miami’s coffin with 15 minutes remaining. The Colombian finished another exquisite Houston move by looping the ball into the top-right corner, but VAR soon intervened to deem him in an offside position.

Meanwhile, Martino continued to search for answers from the sidelines, rolling the dice by bringing on American midfielder David Ruiz for Yedlin and Argentine striker Nicolás Marcelo Stefanelli for Cremaschi.

Josef Martinez pulled one back in stoppage time but it was too little too late for Miami

Josef Martinez pulled one back in stoppage time but it was too little too late for Miami

And just as it seemed their best chances had passed them by, Martinez raised the roof when he latched onto a through ball into the box and bundled home past Tarbell with a few minutes on the clock. All of a sudden, a home crowd praying for another fairytale evening were dreaming of a storied comeback.

Yet when all things were said and done, it was simply too little too late for Miami after an abject first half, and Houston held firm to spoil the potential party in Fort Lauderdale.

If anyone needed reminding just how crucial a 36-year-old Lionel Messi is to Inter Miami, tonight reaffirmed that uncomfortable truth.

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