A Spectator’s Perspective: Lionel Messi’s Debut With Inter Miami

It was a packed house at DRV PNK Stadium to watch Lionel Messi make his Inter Miami debut against Cruz Azul … and it was pretty awesome.

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Cruz Azul in his Heron debut.
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Cruz Azul in his Heron debut. / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages
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So, the final goal aside (I’ll get to that in a bit), the atmosphere at DRV PNK Stadium for Lionel Messi’s debut with Inter Miami was, in a word, pretty sweet.

I could have picked a better word than sweet, but just about any positive word would suffice to show how the stage was set for Messi’s debut with the Herons against Cruz Azul.

I was there and I’ll share some of my perspective based on what I witnessed. And, of course, I’ll talk about “the goal.”

Fans Galore to Watch Inter Miami and Cruz Azul

First, I was surprised at how well Cruz Azul’s fanbase traveled.

I don’t have any kind of official count, but the number of spectators sporting Los Cementeros gear was impressive.

Keep in mind, Cruz Azul plays at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and is based close to the Mexican capital.

I didn’t think there would be as many fans there from Mexico as there were.

On top of that, they were pretty tame and easy-going. Not rowdy like you would expect Premier League away fans to be.

It seems they were there, not only to support their side but to soak up the moment when one of the greatest soccer players in history took the pitch.

Kudos to Cruz Azul fans … classy!

Not a Great Start For Either Inter Miami or Cruz Azul

In a phrase, neither of these teams started the game very well.

I was sitting next to a pair of women who were initially Orlando City fans, but were in South Florida to be part of history — plus, I think they live in South Florida now, so they were looking to make Inter Miami their new side.

They, astutely noted the shaky defense for Inter Miami that allowed Cruz Azul to break free on counter-attacks at will.

The good thing for the Herons is Drake Callender was the man of the match in the first half, stopping everything Los Cementaros threw at him.

It was fortunate Cruz Azul was inaccurate with their shots on goal as the Herons were pitiful in stopping their counterattack.

Finally, in the 44th minute, Robert Taylor drilled a brilliant right-footed shot past goalkeeper Andres Gudino after slotting around from the far left to the center.

And a shoutout to the woman next to me who predicted Taylor would score before the end of the match … good call.

To rewind a bit, as early as the ninth minute of the match, the capacity crowd at DRV PNK Stadium chanted “Messi”… as they did any time an Inter Miami player went down with an injury.

Second Half a Bit Better for Both Sides

While neither Messi nor Sergio Busquets came off the bench at halftime, we didn’t wait long before both were brought on.

Messi, Busquets and Josef Martinez came on early in the second half as both sides picked up the offensive pace.

But, it was Uriel Antuna that drew first for Cruz Azul in the 65th minute — I mentioned in an earlier piece how he would be a player to watch in this match.

Messi would get his chances and every moment he had the ball, fans — myself included — had their phones out to record.

Los Cementaros were smart and doubled down on Messi when he had possession, but he still had flashes of brilliance.

It appeared he connected with Martinez to give the Herons the lead, but Martinez was whistled offside to nullify the attempt.

Cruz Azul had more chances at goal as Inter’s defense continued to leak in the back, but fortunately, their shots went wide or Callender put his hands on.

The Finale and Messi’s Goal Heard Around South Florida

With four minutes of stoppage on the clock, both sides were hoping to avoid the penalty shootout to decide the winner.

In the 94th minute of the match, Messi was brought down a few yards outside the area and was awarded a free kick.

You knew he was going to be the one who took it.

After 30 seconds — which seemed like 30 minutes — Messi curled in a brilliant shot out of reach of Gudino and into the back of the net. Yes, I have a video but, no, I can’t post it.

Elation in the stands would be a massive understatement.

Seconds later, the final whistle blew and the atmosphere was electric.

Not only did it give Inter Miami the win, but Messi’s shot showed fans just what the team got in bringing the best player in the world to South Florida.

He may not defend … at all … but the kind of shot he made in the waning seconds of the match was well worth the price of admission.

In all honesty, while Messi was awarded Man of the Match, I would have to give a big nod to Callender. If not for his impressive play throughout in goal, Messi’s goal either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have mattered.