No Lionel Messi? Big problem for Inter Miami

With their injured superstar looking on in street clothes in South Florida, the Herons squandered a 1-0 first half lead against Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey on Wednesday and went on to lose the opening match of the two-game, home and home, total-goals-wins series in the Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal 2-1. 

Nineteen-year-old center back Tomás Avilés scored in the 19th minute for Miami, but Maximiliano Meza equalized just moments after the hosts had been reduced to 10 men. The strike gave Los Rayados a potentially tie-breaking away goal, and Jorge Rodríguez added a backbreaking second one late, giving Monterrey the aggregate advantage as the teams head to Mexico for next week’s decisive rematch — one Miami must hope that Messi, who has been nursing a hamstring ailment since last month, could be available for.

Here are a few quick takeaways following Wednesday’s contest.

Play of the game

Five-time Concacaf champion Monterrey probably had the better of the play in the first half, but Miami struck first blood when Avilés stuck out a leg and stabbed a Julian Gressel corner kick past visiting keeper Esteban Andrada:

Turning point

Miami was still mostly in control despite its narrow lead as the clock ticked past the hour mark. But everything changed in the 65th minute when Herons midfielder David Ruiz, who had escaped a second yellow card earlier, swung an arm in Meza’s direction, slamming the winger in the face. Guatemalan referee Walter López brandished another yellow and then a red despite impassioned appeals from Miami veterans Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

Four minutes later, Meza pounced on a loose ball that had deflected off of Busquets’ head, smashing it past home keeper Drake Callender — a goal that López confirmed after VAR review.

The sending off and the tying goal changed the momentum completely. Gassed and shorthanded, the visitors’ second felt all but inevitable at that point. Sure enough, Rodríguez converted in the final minute of regular time:

Key stat

Three MLS teams hosted first-leg quarterfinals against Liga MX counterparts this week. None of them won. And given MLS’s terrible 5-31 record in second leg matches south of the border, this year’s tournament could see every one of American/Canadian league’s reps eliminated before the semifinal stage for the first time since 2016.

What’s next for Inter Miami?

The Herons will host the Colorado Rapids in MLS regular season action on Saturday. But with the trip to Monterrey looming large just four days later, expect coach Tata Martino to field a lineup that doesn’t include the likes of Alba, Busquets and Luis Suárez. Messi certainly won’t play in the hope that he can contribute in some capacity next Wednesday in Mexico.

What’s next for Monterrey?

Los Rayados travel to Mexico City to take on Cruz Azul on Saturday before returning home to Estadio BBVA to welcome Miami.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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