Inter Miami dumped from Champions Cup: Three takeaways

Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami saw its dream of a continental trophy ended Wednesday night in Monterrey, Mexico in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Liga MX power Monterrey overwhelmed Miami, 3-1, leaving no doubt in the two-leg series that ended with a 5-2 aggregate scoreline.

Miami went into the night fighting an uphill battle. They gave up two goals in the late stages at home after falling down a man last week and thus had to overcome a deficit on the road.

A big mistake by goalkeeper Drake Callender trying to play it out of the back gifted Monterrey forward Brandon Vazquez a first-half goal. Monterrey broke the game open in the second half with goals from Germán Berterame in the 58th minute and Jesus Gallardo in the 64th.


Patrick Schulte leads Crew to CONCACAF semis

The result means MLS will have just one team in the semifinals of CONCACAF’s marquee tournament: the Columbus Crew, which defeated Tigres in penalties on Tuesday night. The winner of the Champions Cup will earn a berth in next summer’s FIFA Club World Cup.

Miami, despite starting its four star players — Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba — looked overmatched for much of the game by a Monterrey team fielding a lineup that was stronger top to bottom.

“I don’t want to make excuses, I don’t want to come here and say that’s why we’re out, but I think if you look at the two benches it gives you a pretty good idea of what it’s like,” said midfielder Julian Gressel. “I hope that the MLS will take the right steps to potentially in the future, be able to have a deeper roster so that you can compare a little bit more and you can kind of make a push for this competition more.”

The loss continued MLS’s historical struggles in the tournament. Just one MLS team has won the tournament, the Seattle Sounders in 2022, and this year marks the fourth time in the last six years that MLS has had just one semifinalist.

Now, Messi and Inter Miami’s likely only other chance to qualify for the Club World Cup next year is winning the 2024 MLS Cup. MLS will get one final bid as the host nation of the tournament, and while FIFA has not announced how that spot will be decided, winning the league’s championship is the most likely possibility.

Estadio BBVA rocked as Monterrey rolled

Estadio BBVA is one of North American soccer’s crown jewels, tucked into a valley in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. The atmosphere at the place on Wednesday almost certainly contributed to Miami’s undoing, though they didn’t need much help. Monterrey’s fans were fully bought in the entire match and the noise was deafening.

In Mexico, Messi doesn’t enjoy the sort of universal adulation that he does elsewhere in the world; there were very few Messi jerseys in view and he was booed relentlessly throughout the match. Tata Martino, Miami’s head coach, got an even louder jeer when he was announced pre-game — Martino led Mexico to an early crash-out at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

By the final whistle, the crowd had honed in on a pair of chants: “Messi se la come” (Messi can eat it) was the first. The second was a little less creative: they just started chanting Cristiano Ronaldo’s name over and over again. Simple but effective.

“It’s something we were prepared for, to be honest with you,” Miami midfielder Julian Gressel said after the match. “This was a beautiful atmosphere, great stadium, great fans, against a good team, and those are the nights you want to play. It’s an away game, you expect that.”

There’s simply nothing like this type of environment in MLS. This is why playing in Mexico has always been so difficult for MLS sides. The size of the Estadio BBVA is evident. The crowd is loud and the noise is intimidating. One bad touch, and they’re inside your head. Drake Callender found that out the hard way. – Pablo Maurer & Felipe Cardenas

Callender’s first-half error put Miami even further behind (Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Callender’s error put Miami on the back foot

Two straight days of MLS teams in Mexico needing a result to advance in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, two straight days of goalkeepers making big mistakes trying to play it out of the back that lead to goals and deficits.

On Tuesday night, it was Columbus goalkeeper Patrick Schulte. He redeemed himself with two saves in the penalty shootout to lead the Crew to a win.

On Wednesday night, it was Drake Callender.

The goal may have deflated Inter Miami in the first half, but it didn’t directly end their chances on the night. Trailing 2-1 going into the second leg, Inter Miami was going to need at least two goals if they wanted to win the home-and-home series.

But Callender’s blunder came just six minutes after Inter Miami’s best combination play in and around Monterrey’s box, with Messi sending a shot just over the crossbar. Inter needed some time to recover from the shock of the goal, though they had a couple of good looks at the end of the first half.

The mistake proved fatal, however, when Monterrey found its second goal in the 58th minute. – Paul Tenorio

Berterame’s shot from distance did much to separate the sides (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Berterame’s rocket put it out of reach

As the olé’s began to ring around the stadium, there was a feeling that Monterrey’s second goal was coming Inter Miami couldn’t keep possession of the ball and they were stretched in search of an equalizer.

All those factors played a part in Berterame’s thunderous strike in the 58th minute, which made the score 2-0 and all but officially put the game out of reach for Miami.

After a giveaway by Miami left back Noah Allen led to right back Chelo Weigandt getting caught upfield, the ball made its way to the burly Argentine center forward in plenty of space at the top of the Inter Miami penalty area. Berterame had struggled for most of the match to get a clean touch on the ball, but he made no mistake this time.

His goal was a glimpse of why the Portland Timbers pushing to sign him for a reported $15 million in January. Monterrey were the the clear winners of that could’ve-been situation. – Felipe Cardenas

A difference in squad construction

Inter Miami had four legends in its starting lineup, but Monterrey proved over two legs that it’s just a way better team, top-to-bottom. The Liga MX side was sharper and more unified in almost every respect whether playing home or away, easily breaking Miami’s press in the moments it happened and pouncing on chances when the back four opened up.

Inter Miami clearly had adjustments to make, but Martino chose to make zero subs for the duration of the game – which he said after the game was a function of a young bench full of inexperienced players.

“The teams that have advanced (in the Champions Cup) are the teams that have the best squads in Mexican football,” Martino said after the game. “I mentioned recently that until MLS relaxes its many (roster) rules in order to build more robust squads, where player absences, injuries, suspensions aren’t as difficult to overcome, evidently (Liga MX) will have an advantage.”

The Columbus Crew stands as MLS’s last hope of overcoming that advantage. –Alexander Abnos

(Photo: Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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