Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi rally Inter Miami for a 2-2 tie with Nashville

Nashville SC forward Teal Bunbury (12) makes a pass between Inter Miami midfielder David Ruiz (41) and Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) during a CONCACAF Champions Cup Round of Sixteen first leg match between Nashville SC and Inter Miami, March 7, 2024, at GEODIS Park in Nashville, Tennessee.

Luis Suárez scored in stoppage time and Lionel Messi also scored after halftime to help Inter Miami tie Nashville 2-2 Thursday night in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

The teams will meet Wednesday night in Florida in the second leg of the home-and-home, total-goals series in the round of 16.

Suárez tied it up scoring in the fifth minute of stoppage time with a header off a cross from former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets. Messi got Inter Miami on the board with his first CONCACAF goal in the 52nd minute.

“It’s a completely different level of intelligence from the likes of Lionel Messi and Busquets and Suárez,” Nashville coach Gary Smith said of facing Inter Miami with the talent the team has added. “Completely different level. And for the most part, I thought the guys did a wonderful job.”

Jacob Shaffelburg scored in the fourth minute, then again in the 47th minute after halftime to put Nashville up 2-0 before a crowd of 30,109. Nashville thought it had a 3-1 lead when Shaq Moore scored in the 83rd minute, only to have the goal waived off for being offside.

Smith wasn't happy with the officiating, making clear he hadn't seen Moore's goal. Smith said he thought the rules required clear and obvious error or the decision on the field should stand.

All eyes were on Messi.

Once the match was set last week, ticket prices seemed ready to soar, similar to Messi's first visit to Nashville last August in the Leagues Cup final. Tickets remained available Thursday, though pink Messi jerseys dotted GEODIS Park. Fans also chanted the name of the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner repeatedly.
“There’s a slightly different edge and feel to the atmosphere when Messi’s in town," Smith said. "You know, he’s the show and an exceptional individual.”

Messi scored in regulation and converted the first shot in penalty kicks the last time these teams played here. He had to be a bit more patient Thursday night.

He missed in the 13th minute trying to bend the ball just inside the left edge of the goal from the middle of the box with his left-footed kick going just wide left. Messi appeared to ask himself how he didn't score. Nashville keeper Joe Willis stopped Messi's shot off his right foot in the 37th minute from the box.

A foul gave Messi a chance just before halftime in stoppage time, but his free kick went into Nashville's wall. Julian Gressel tried to chase down the ball and got his right foot on the ball, only to see Willis smother the shot as the half expired.

Shaffelburg put Nashville up 1-0 in the fourth minute, scoring over Drake Callender off a pass from Moore, tucking the ball under the crossbar before going to his knees celebrating the early lead. Shaffelburg scored from the left side off a pass from Sean Davis for a 2-0 lead.

That didn't last long as Messi finally did what everyone expected to happen at some point.

Suárez found his former Barcelona teammate Messi just outside the box. Messi used his left foot to squeeze the ball between Willis' outstretched right fingers and inside the left post in the 52nd minute to pull Miami to 2-1.

Messi had a bit of a scare late in regulation when Nashville defender Lukas Macnaughton stepped on his left calf. A trainer checked on Messi, who remained on the pitch.

Before the match, Nashville announced a contract extension with German midfielder Hany Mukhtar to keep the 2022 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner with the club through 2026. Nashville also has an option for 2027 for the two-time All-Star who is the club's all-time leader in goals, assists and points.

Callendar made a nice stop on a Mukhtar shot at the post in the 23rd minute. Mukhtar hadn't had a chance to see the replay of Moore's goal taken away for being offside.

“I heard it’s very, very tight,” Mukhtar said. "Not not ideal for us, but it’s just halftime. So we’re going there next week and start from 0-0.”

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