The Orange & Blue seemed poised to reach their first-ever final in front of their home fans at TQL Stadium, staking a comfortable 2-0 lead on goals from Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez. But Messi, as has been the case throughout his legendary career, wouldn’t be denied, inspiring Miami’s comeback with a pair of brilliant assists on two Leonardo Campana headers – the second coming in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time.
Both teams scored in extra time (Josef Martínez for the Herons, Yuya Kubo for Cincy) to leave things at 3-3 and force a penalty shootout that Miami eventually won, 5-4, to earn hosting rights in the Sept. 27 final against Houston Dynamo FC.
“This one hurts,” head coach Pat Noonan said postgame, all but acknowledging the defeat was a crushing blow for his players.
“They’re gutted,” he added. “… They put a lot into it and we were in position to advance to a final and came up short. So the guys are struggling with this one, as they should be.”
Asked to comment on Messi’s impact, Noonan tipped his hat to the 2022 FIFA World Cup champion and seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
“He makes the delivery on the plays that matter, and that’s where he’s the difference maker,” the manager stated.
Miami’s rally was also possibly made easier by Cincinnati subbing out several key players like Acosta, Vazquez and Álvaro Barreal as the match wore on due to cramping and fatigue.
“We made some adjustments that we weren’t expecting to,” Noonan said, refusing to use that as an excuse. “But I still thought we were in a position to see out the game.”
Plenty to play for
While Cincinnati leave the US Open Cup empty-handed, there’s still plenty to play for this season.
Currently Major League Soccer’s top club with a 15W-3L-6D record (51 points), the Orange & Blue have the Supporters’ Shield within reach as they also look to make a deep run in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs after making the postseason for the first time last year. This opportunity, where they pursue a first MLS-era trophy and challenge the New England Revolution's single-season points record (73 in 2021), is their new normal.
But Wednesday’s Cup disappointment comes three days after Cincy suffered a 3-0 loss at Hell is Real rivals Columbus Crew, and earlier this month they exited Leagues Cup in the Round of 32 after a shootout loss to Nashville SC. Two narrow-as-can-be tournament exits, plus a derby setback, in three weeks' time isn't easy to swallow.
For Noonan, their 10 remaining regular-season games – starting with Saturday’s home showdown against New York City FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) – will be crucial in determining precisely what his squad is made of.
“You gotta dig deep in moments like this. It’s two losses, but it’s two important losses,” Noonan said. “So, how we come out of this is up to us.”