The dream for a championship for FC Cincinnati will have to wait for now. The Orange and Blue fell to Inter Miami on penalty kicks 3-3 (4-5) in the 2023 US Open Cup Semifinal.
Inter Miami and world-famous Lionel Messi arrived in Cincinnati fresh off a Leagues Cup Final win. During MLS league play, Inter Miami is dead last in the standings but the Herons have found success in Cup competitions. For FCC, the USOC semifinal was an all too familiar spot, as in 2017 FCC placed its high-water mark in a defeat to the New York Red Bulls. But with FCC topping the MLS standings and Inter Miami in the basement, the matchup looked like a sure thing in TQL Stadium. And then the Messi hysteria took over. The stage had flipped from an interesting possible ‘cupset’ to a full-blown juggernaut showdown.
The game opened like two prize fighters feeling each other out. With the possibility of extra time in the match, both teams early in the match seemed perfectly content with solid defending and ripping low xG (expected goal) attempts towards goal. The hot and humid conditions played a factor as well, with the kickoff temperature at 91 degrees. FCC turned that temperature up with an 18th-minute Luciano Acosta run from the edge of the attacking third into the box. The ball took several deflections as he navigated the Miami defense, but he was able to regain possession before delivering a low shot into the goal for the lead. A moment later, an Aaron Boupendza run and chipped goal was called back when the assistant referee indicated he was offsides. But the effect from those two series was palpable, as the sellout crowd at TQL Stadium was in a frenzy for the remainder of the half.
The second half picked up that momentum again as Nick Hagglund, in the 53rd minute, made a terrific step forward to deny a dangerous situation at the top of the box. Junior Moreno was able to spring the counter when his ball found Santiago Arias making a good run to his right. After committing the center back, Arias was able to find Brandon Vazquez at the top of the Miami box. Vazquez wound up to shot and doubled the FCC lead with a well-placed shot into the back corner.
With the momentum and lead heavily in FCC’s favor, Miami was forced to make changes. They took off pieces on the back line and brought on more of an attacking focus. FCC made substitutions of its own, bringing on Yuya Kubo for Boupendza and continued the applied pressure on Inter Miami’s back line. But FCC was unable to deliver a third goal from those chances. This momentum came to a head when Messi decided to make his mark on the match.
Dropping back to the edge of the Miami attacking third, Messi was able to usher the ball forward and delivered a class touch to Facundo Farías that led to a free kick on the edge of FCC’s box. Given the position of the free kick, Messi served a pinpoint delivery to Leonardo Campana. Campana directed the ball past Alec Kann to half the FC Cincinnati lead.
Moments later, FCC thought they had an answer of their own when a corner led to a Kubo goal. But after a VAR check, the goal was disallowed due to a handball that set up Kubo’s shot. More chances came from FCC, however. A couple of ill-timed runs and questionable decision-making foiled most chances. The most attractive attempt came just as the eight minutes of stoppage time started. A Sergio Santos run led to his beautiful delivery across the face of goal to Arias who was denied a goal by a great save from the Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender.
Time was running out on Inter Miami’s cup hopes when in the 97th minute Messi once again flashed his brilliance. After receiving a back pass from Jordi Alba, Messi took a lobbing pass in front of a pedestrian midfield defense. The ball, yet again, was pure quality. It found, yet again, Campana who stirred back across the face of goal, tying the game in the dying moment of stoppage time.
A tired and dejected FCC side now had 30 more minutes to play. The air was sucked out of the building in the third minute of extra time when former MLS MVP Josef Martínez beat Matt Miazga to the ball and scored. With the majority of FCC’s offensive firepower subbed off, this goal felt like a death blow. But Miami was showing cracks in its defense. FCC was delivering constant pressure with runs into the box and crosses from the right side. A chance to equalize came in the 104th minute when a corner found Arias for a header that clanged off the crossbar. However, fortunes flipped as Bret Halsey slotted a back in the middle of the box. The ball took a deflection from David Ruiz and fell to Kubo. Kubo took a touch and unleashed a curling shot to the far post that Callender was unable to deal with. FCC had its answer. Extra time came to a conclusion after a nervy Messi free-kick attempt and a spoiled Santos run.
Penalty kicks awaited. All of the shots in the first four rounds were converted by both sides. With the majority of the penalty kick specialists for FCC subbed out, Hagglund stepped forward. Hagglund elected to go right but the Callender read the attempt well and was able to make the save. Up stepped Benjamin Cremaschi and he did well to find the bottom right corner to send Inter Miami to the USOC Final.
For the second time in 2023, FC Cincinnati will have to delay their championship ambitions. Pat Noonan was asked how this team can bounce back from this loss and the loss in Columbus.
“You have to dig deep in moments like this,” Noonan said. “It’s two losses, but it’s two important losses. How we come out of this is up to us. Guys put a lot into it, so obviously we have to see where we’re at over the next couple of days to try and put out a strong team against New York City.”
CIN: Alec Kann, Álvaro Barreal (Bret Halsey 106’), Ian Murphy (Alvas Powell 88’), Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund, Santiago Arias, Obinna Nwobodo, Junior Moreno (Marco Angulo 89’), Luciano Acosta (C) (Ray Gaddis 89’), Aaron Boupendza (Yuya Kubo 78’), Brandon Vazquez (Sergio Santos 78’)
Substitutes not used: Roman Celentano, Arquimides Ordoñez
MIA: Drake Callender, DeAndre Yedlin (Facundo Farias 58’), Sergio Busquets, Tomás Avilés (Noah Allen 78’), Jean Mota (David Ruiz 58’), Diego Gómez (Josef Martínez 78’), Leonardo Campana (Benjamin Cremaschi 91’), Lionel Messi (C), Jordi Alba, Sergii Kryvtsov, Kamal Miller (Robert Taylor 58’)
Substitutes not used: CJ Dos Santos
MIA – Jordi Alba (Yellow Card) 24’
CIN – Obinna Nwobodo (Yellow Card) 31’
MIA – Jean Mota (Yellow Card) 41’
MIA – Tomás Avilés (Yellow Card) 70’
MIA – Sergii Kryvtsov (Yellow Card) 80’
CIN – Luciano Acosta (Yellow Card) 85’
CIN – Álvaro Barreal (Yellow Card) 90’
CIN – Alvas Powell (Yellow Card) 111’
CIN – Santiago Arias (Yellow Card) 117’
MLS League Play New York City FC (H) August 26, 7:30 p.m. on Apple TV+