Messi, Suarez lead the way as Inter Miami beats Nashville in CONCACAF Champions Cup

Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami CF celebrates with Ian Fray #24 oafter scoring a goal in the 23rd minute against the Nashville SC during the first half in the Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16 match at Chase Stadium on March 13, 2024 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

Lionel Messi had a goal and an assist in his return to Inter Miami's lineup Wednesday night, leading the way in a 3-1 win over Nashville in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup round-of-16 matchup.

Messi found his former Barcelona teammate, Luis Suárez , in stride for a goal that opened scoring in the eighth minute. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner then added a first-half goal to give Inter Miami an early 2-0 lead.

The Argentine superstar checked out of the match in the 50th minute. It wasn't immediately clear why Messi subbed out — he had rested in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Montreal, which is the only game he has missed this season.

Messi was replaced by Robert Taylor, who scored in the 63rd minute to give Inter Miami a 3-0 lead.

Inter Miami advanced to the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals with the win and 5-3 advantage in aggregate goals in the total-goals series.

The teams had tied in the first leg in Nashville last Thursday. Messi scored in regulation, and Suárez scored the tying goal in stoppage time to rally Miami to a 2-2 draw. Messi went down late in regulation of that game when Nashville defender Lukas Macnaughton stepped on his left calf. A trainer checked on Messi, who remained on the pitch.

He had been listed as questionable with a shin injury entering Sunday's game against Montreal, but head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after that match that the plan was always to rest Messi for that game.

The rest seemed to bode well for Messi's performance Wednesday, as he wasted no time making an impact.

He earned a free kick after a foul by Nashville's Aníbal Godoy just four minutes into the match, but had his attempt blocked. The 36-year-old seized his opportunity a few minutes later, using his impressive vision to fit a pass to a streaking Suárez, who sent the ball into bottom right corner of the net.

Messi then used a pass from Diego Gómez to score from inside the penalty area as fans started chanting his name. Taylor later got on the board with a header off an assist by Suárez.

Nashville had a chance late in the second half when Hany Mukhtar got past Miami's defense and sent a shot into the back of the net. Officials overturned the goal after a lengthy review, ruling that Mukhtar was offside.

Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender, coming off a disappointing performance against Montreal, had two saves before giving up a goal to Sam Surridge in stoppage time.

Wednesday was the fourth time that head coach Gary Smith's Nashville club has faced Messi since he joined Inter Miami and MLS last summer.

They'd played to three draws before Wednesday — the first of which Miami won 10-9 on penalty kicks in the 2023 Leagues Cup final. Messi scored early in regulation and converted the first shot in penalty kicks as Miami won its first trophy.

“It’s a never-ending conundrum," Smith said ahead of Wednesday's match. “You try and set up a group to try and limit what he’s able to do. He’s proved throughout his career at the very best levels that no matter how good you are defensively, or how well-organized, the caliber of the individual will always find a way.”

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