In an electrifying season finale, soccer superstar Lionel Messi graced the artificial turf of Inter Miami for the full duration of a game, but it was Charlotte FC that stole the spotlight by clinching a spot in the MLS playoffs with a 1-0 victory. The final game of the regular season drew a massive crowd of 66,101 to Charlotte’s illustrious Bank of America Stadium, which boasts a seating capacity of 74,000.
As the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and captain of the Argentina national team, Messi’s presence was undoubtedly the main attraction. Fans from far and wide flocked to the stadium donning their “Messi 10” jerseys, creating an electric atmosphere.
Despite the game being of no consequence for Inter Miami, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention, Messi exhibited his world-class skills throughout the match. The Argentine maestro recorded three shots and had two promising scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, Messi’s goal in the 49th minute was ruled offside, and a shot in the 62nd minute ricocheted off the crossbar.
During his half-season stint with Miami, Messi tallied 11 goals in 14 matches, but the team struggled in the latter part of the season with four wins, four losses, and four draws since his arrival in mid-July.
Messi, who recently led Argentina to World Cup glory, opted not to address the media after the game. His media availability with the team has been limited, with the last press interaction occurring on August 17.
In contrast, it was Charlotte FC that truly shone on this crucial day. In their second year as a franchise, they needed a victory over Inter Miami and favorable outcomes from other matches to secure one of the Eastern Conference playoff berths. The Chicago Fire and CF Montreal both suffered losses earlier in the day, opening the door for Charlotte to claim a historic playoff spot.
The sole goal of the match was delivered by Kerwin Vargas in the 13th minute, securing a momentous victory for Charlotte. What made this achievement even more impressive was Charlotte’s ability to hold off Inter Miami, a team that had conceded late-game goals throughout the season.
Charlotte FC, currently second in league attendance, has had an impressive run in their 2023 season. Their average attendance of 33,634 leading up to the regular-season finale reflects the city’s growing passion for soccer.
Charlotte FC coach Christian Lattanzio acknowledged the impact of Messi’s presence, stating, “I knew it was because Messi was in town. The more they come to see us, they will see we can play toe-to-toe with the best in the world. I’m very, very proud of the boys. They have been working very, very hard.”
Looking ahead, Lionel Messi is expected to don Inter Miami’s colors for exhibition matches in China on November 5 and 8, marking the first time the team embarks on a foreign tour. Argentina also has more World Cup qualifiers scheduled for November 16 and 21, after which Messi is likely to get an extended break before beginning preparations for the 2024 season.
Inter Miami CF coach Gerardo Martino acknowledged that the team was weary after a grueling schedule, which included participation in three tournaments, with one tournament victory. “The team was exhausted. That’s no excuse. That’s the reality,” said Martino, emphasizing the physical and mental demands placed on his players this season.
As the MLS playoffs approach, fans will eagerly anticipate the performances of both Charlotte FC and Inter Miami, with Messi continuing to be the center of attention and inspiration for fans around the world.