Honestly, of all of the quarterfinal matches in the 2023 Leagues Cup, Inter Miami’s matchup with Charlotte FC worried me the most.
No one gave The Crown any chance of beating Lionel Messi and the Herons at DRV PNK Stadium, which was exactly why this could have been disastrous for the Herons.
But, in the end, Inter Miami put things on cruise control from the start and Charlotte was never a threat in a 4-0 win.
And they didn’t even need Messi’s heroics, but it was still good to have him around.
Let’s get into it.
Lionel Messi Was A Game Changer, But His Services Weren’t Needed
Leading up to Friday’s game with Charlotte FC, the two biggest questions were whether Inter Miami’s defense could stop Charlotte’s attack and how Charlotte would contain Messi.
We’ll get to the second question later.
To answer the first, it is simple: They didn’t need to.
I mentioned in my piece before the game that Inter Miami needed to keep up offensive pressure and allow Josef Martinez, Robert Taylor and Benjamin Cremaschi to work on the outside to alleviate pressure in the middle.
And that is exactly what they did.
This chance was golden with Jordi Alba coming up on the left from a defensive position to cross inside the box to Martinez, who just missed an opportunity to put the Herons up early.
That came a few minutes later when Charlotte was called for a handball in the area in which Martinez put away the penalty kick with ease.
What you don’t see in either of those early plays is the mention of Messi. That’s because the Inter Miami attack has adapted itself to create chances because defenses are so focused on Messi’s movements that they are missing opportunities from the rest of the Herons’ attacking line.
In the second goal, a connection between DeAndre Yedlin and Taylor was enough to push the ball into the back of the net for Inter.
Again, no Messi.
Makes a pretty good statement, if you are Inter Miami.
Messi finally became part of the mix late in the second half when Leonardo Campana — working on the wing — found Messi streaking in the middle to give Inter a 4-0 lead.
In this instance, Charlotte was so hesitant to attack Campana on the wing that the defense tried to pack the center. Messi came up the middle, virtually unnoticed to bury the cross.
In the end, Inter Miami has been able to come full circle offensively — they can use Messi to score or to draw defenses into favorable coverage. From there, the rest of the attack has finally found ways to finish — something they couldn’t do before Messi’s arrival.
Inter Miami’s Defense Found Legs Too
Alba, Yedlin, Kamal Miller and Sergi Kryvtsov finally gelled defensively and found answers to a Charlotte attack that featured Karol Swiderski and Brandt Bronico.
Of course, it helped that The Crown only possessed the ball for 38% of the match and managed a paltry two shots on target of the nine they took — both on target coming in the second half.
And Charlotte tried to be the aggressor, committing 13 fouls and drawing a pair of yellow cards for the effort.
The biggest key for Inter Miami was always going to be finding a solution for a leaky defense that struggled against FC Dallas in the previous round, but Charlotte’s lack of cohesive attack and inability to create any chances helped solve the problem for the Herons.
Does it mean Inter Miami is a complete team? Not yet. However, it does mean that Messi has become an added benefit over the center of the team’s offensive attack.
As for the defense, I’m not sure if Friday’s performance was more Charlotte’s ineptitude or Inter Miami’s better play at the back, but I’ll take it nonetheless.