Inter Miami CF’s Thrilling Triumph: A Closer Look at the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal
A Battle of Grit and Skill in Sweltering Conditions
The showdown between Inter Miami CF and FC Cincinnati was not only a clash of soccer prowess but also a test of endurance in scorching temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the challenging weather, both teams exhibited remarkable determination during the initial 15 minutes of play. The sold-out crowd of 25,513 at TQL Stadium bore witness to the early tussle for control, with moments of possession and strategic build-up attempts towards the goal.
Acosta’s Brilliance Breaks the Deadlock
The opening goal of the match arrived in the 18th minute, ignited by Lucho Acosta’s moment of brilliance. Charging forward from the left flank, the Argentine attacker threaded a pass that ricocheted off Inter Miami’s Tomás Avilés and back to teammate Aaron Boupendza. Positioned at the top of the box, Boupendza skillfully redirected the ball to Acosta, who continued his run and fired a left-footed strike. The shot found its mark, evading the outstretched arms of Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender and rattling the post as FC Cincinnati claimed the lead.
Inter Miami’s Response and Near-Misses
Eager to level the playing field, Inter Miami launched determined counterattacks. A mere three minutes after the opener, Lionel Messi orchestrated a well-timed pass to Diego Gómez inside the penalty area. However, FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Alec Kann showcased remarkable reflexes, denying Gómez’s close-range shot with a point-blank save. As the first half neared its end, Brazilian midfielder Jean Mota unleashed a curling 25-yard effort that veered just left of Kann’s goal, while DeAndre Yedlin’s inviting cross found Gómez at the near post, only for the Argentine’s header to narrowly miss the target.
FC Cincinnati Extends Their Lead
The home side continued to capitalize on their momentum into the second half. In the 53rd minute, a precisely executed pass over Inter Miami’s defensive line reached Santiago Arias on the right flank. Swiftly exploiting the transition, Arias located an unmarked Brandon Vazquez just outside the penalty area. Vazquez seized the opportunity, unleashing a powerful strike that nestled inside the left post, extending FC Cincinnati’s advantage to 2-0.
Messi and Campana’s Dynamic Duo
Inter Miami’s hopes of a comeback were reignited by the indomitable partnership of Lionel Messi and Leonardo Campana. In the 68th minute, Messi’s expertise in set-pieces was on full display as he delivered a pinpoint free-kick. Campana seized the opportunity, heading the ball past Kann from close range, reducing FC Cincinnati’s lead to a single goal. The duo’s synergy continued as they nearly equalized in the 83rd minute, with Messi’s cross finding Campana, whose header sailed just over the crossbar.
Late Drama and Extra-Time Heroics
As the match entered its closing stages, FC Cincinnati threatened to seal their victory. Substitute Sergio Santos maneuvered down the left flank and set up Arias, whose powerful shot was thwarted by a timely save from Callender. Yet, Inter Miami refused to be silenced. In the dying moments of second-half stoppage time, Messi’s precise cross once again connected with Campana, who soared above the opposition to head in the equalizer, forcing extra time.
Inter Miami Seizes Control in Extra Time
The energy of the late equalizer propelled Inter Miami into extra time with renewed vigor. Merely three minutes into the additional period, a defensive lapse from FC Cincinnati handed the ball to Jordi Alba. The Spanish full-back swiftly distributed the ball to Benjamin Cremaschi, an 18-year-old Homegrown Player. Cremaschi’s quick thinking facilitated a pass to Josef Martínez, who unleashed a low strike past Kann, propelling Inter Miami to a 3-2 lead.
FC Cincinnati’s Tenacity Pays Off
FC Cincinnati, however, exhibited commendable resilience in the face of adversity. In the 114th minute, substitute Bret Hasley surged down the left flank and delivered a low cross that was deflected out by David Ruiz. But the ball fell perfectly to Yuya Kubo, who capitalized on the opportunity and slotted home the equalizer, knotting the score at 3-3 and necessitating a penalty shootout.
Callender’s Heroics Secure Victory
The ensuing penalty shootout added another layer of nail-biting tension to the match. Both teams displayed remarkable composure, converting their spot kicks with precision. In a déjà vu moment, Drake Callender stepped up as Inter Miami’s savior, diving to his left to deny Nick Hagglund’s crucial spot kick. With the advantage firmly in their grasp, Benjamin Cremaschi stepped forward and calmly dispatched his penalty, securing Inter Miami CF’s historic berth in the U.S. Open Cup Final.
Conclusion: A Tale of Grit, Skill, and Unforgettable Moments
The clash between Inter Miami CF and FC Cincinnati was a captivating narrative that encapsulated the essence of soccer drama. From Messi’s artistry and Campana’s clinical finishing to the roller-coaster swings in momentum, the match had it all. The endurance shown by both teams in the sweltering conditions, the extra-time heroics, and the final decisive penalty kick showcased the heart and soul of the beautiful game. As Inter Miami CF advances to the U.S. Open Cup Final, the memories of this thrilling semifinal clash will forever resonate in the annals of soccer history.