Lionel Messi and Inter Miami FC look to continue its storybook run in the Leagues Cup when it faces the host Philadelphia Union in a semifinal on Tuesday night in Chester.
Messi, the reigning World Cup Golden Ball winner for Argentina, made his debut for Miami as the Leagues Cup began after completing his signing with the Herons last month.
He’s been the most dynamic player in the competition contested among all 47 clubs of MLS and Liga MX, scoring eight goals and assisting two more while helping Miami post a 4-0-1 record in the tournament.
That’s a dramatic reversal of form for Miami, which is still in last in the MLS Eastern Conference regular season standings and had gone winless in 11 league games prior to Messi’s arrival.
“We’ve kind of been through a lot this year,” Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender said. “So for us to play well in Leagues Cup, for our first time in this tournament, has been good just to kind of build that morale, build that mentality, get that feeling of winning back.”
Miami cruised to a 4-0 win over Charlotte in a home quarterfinal on Friday night. But the Union on paper should provide the toughest test Messi’s Miami has faced and will mark only the second time Messi has hit the road in this tournament.
Philadelphia has won the last two Eastern Conference regular season titles and is third in those standings again this season after a slow start.
The Union are likely to have attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag back in the fold after he missed Friday’s 2-1 quarterfinal win over Mexico side Queretaro with a mild knee sprain. However, regular-season scoring leader Julian Carranza could miss out after suffering a mild hamstring strain in the late stages of that win.
Gazdag has four goals this tournament -- including three from the penalty spot. Eight of his nine league goals have also come from penalties, and he also leads the Union with nine regular-season assists.
“He trained today fully and looked great,” Philly manager Jim Curtin said of Gazdag on Monday. “Happy to have him back and it’s a relief that it wasn’t more serious. He’s Hungarian. He’s tough by nature and he’s not missing this one.”
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