PK hero! Drake Callender credits Inter Miami's "collective strive for greatness"


As much as Inter Miami CF’s history-making Leagues Cup run centered around Lionel Messi’s greatness, unsung heroes offered constant reminders of their importance to the Herons’ revamped, ascendant squad.

And thus it was Drake Callender’s turn Saturday night at GEODIS Park, producing a man-of-the-match performance to help lift silverware after a 1-1 draw with Nashville SC.

Callender made five saves in regulation time and another two in the ensuing 11-round shootout (10-9), stopping both Randall Leal and fellow goalkeeper Elliot Panicco. The rising US international even scored a PK himself, allowing Miami to earn their first-ever trophy.

“Once I realized that I was going to have to take one, I was pretty excited,” Callender said postgame. “I had never taken a PK like that before. It was my first professional goal. As well as I had two saves in the shootout, and I hadn't made a save in a shootout before as a pro.

“It feels good to work hard and be prepared for those moments. Fortunately, we were able to come out with the win.”

Callender’s penchant for big moments was a persistent theme throughout Leagues Cup as Inter Miami, behind a transformative summer transfer window, have rapidly adapted to new head coach Tata Martino’s tactics and the force-magnifying effect of ex-FC Barcelona superstars Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

Whether it was Callender’s heroics against Nashville, in the group stage vs. Cruz Azul or the semifinals vs. Philadelphia Union – it came as no surprise that he earned the Leagues Cup Best Goalkeeper award.

“The thing with him is he's set that standard now,” said Miami right back DeAndre Yedlin. “So people are surprised when they see it, but I'm not surprised when I see it. I'm surprised when I don't see that.

"That's just Drake, that's the level that he's set and it's unbelievable because when I first came in, he was the third goalkeeper. He became one of my really close friends and just to see his growth has been incredible.”

With Callender providing a foundation behind center backs Kamal Miller and Sergii Kryvtsov, Miami now turn the page to a US Open Cup semifinal on Wednesday at MLS-leading FC Cincinnati. If the chips fall Inter Miami’s way, they could host the Sept. 27 final and vie for another trophy.

Inter Miami, already into the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16 (bye as Leagues Cup champions), will also hope to climb the Eastern Conference table into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs field. They have 12 points to make up with 12 games to go, but with those like Messi and Callender stepping up, the Herons will believe anything is possible.

“Any time we play in a non-league competition, in a cup game, it puts us in a position to lift a trophy,” Callender said. “Yes, the attributions we've had from Leo and all the new players have been amazing, but it's a team effort. It's the collective strive for greatness that led us to where we are right now.”