Champions of Inter Miami

¡Campeones! ¡Campeones! Ole! Ole! Ole! Football has a widespread singing culture from fans making up songs about their favorite sides and players to the teams singing their own well-known anthems in tandem with their stadium speakers. “Campeones” is one of the most famous songs in all of soccer, but it can only be sung by the winners at the end of a long and hard-fought competition. Inter Miami’s harmonic version of the song on Saturday night would make even the pickiest music label executive in Nashville stop and listen in jealous awe. It was music to all of our ears as we have been waiting for Inter Miami to gain their footing and become relevant over their four-year history only to have our hearts broken over and over again in true Miami fan fashion.


Miami’s Winning Tradition

Here in the Magic City we are not estranged from winning. We have watched our beloved Miami Hurricanes become national titlists 5 times (despite being robbed thrice). We have watched the Miami Heat have three parades down Biscayne Boulevard. This past year we watched the Basketball Canes get to the Elite Eight and Final Four. We cheered on the Florida Panthers as they made an improbable run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, despite needing a regular season miracle to get in the playoffs. The Marlins have won two World Series rings in their three playoff appearances and the Dolphins have two Super Bowl victories, including the only perfect undefeated season in league history. We have had some magical moments in Miami for sure, but unfortunately, we have endured losing as well.


Soccer, a Love Affair

Acquiring Lionel Messi this summer is the infusion of talent and energy this market needs. Miami is a soccer crazy town. Miami is a multicultural melting pot with tons of influence from Latin America and the Caribbean isles which surround the peninsula on all coasts. In all those countries, football reigns supreme and I don’t mean the American kind of football.  It’s all about goals and golazos in the Gable green gardens of Dade County. Growing up, soccer was my favorite sport, and it still is. Soccer is the one that stole my heart and we have been going steady since I played her in high school. There is nothing like the free-flowing stoppage free beautiful game that is based on war strategy of line breaks and outflanking the enemy.

The Miami Fusion and Miami FC were early renditions of soccer teams in Miami that we could cheer for, but Inter Miami is the first major Miami football franchise that feels on par with the other big sporting institutions like the Dolphins, the Heat, and the Hurricanes. Inter Miami is the first soccer team in South Florida to pull together the massive support of the local fanbase and be ubiquitously beloved by the media. Therefore, it is only fitting that Inter Miami would be the only team from South Florida to win a championship trophy in 2023. Inter Miami capped off an unbelievable year of winning in South Florida.  Ultimately, all of the other teams came up short in the championship finals. We finally got a trophy and it feels amazing!


Championship Analysis: The Fans

Inter Miami put the tri-county area on its back on Saturday night in a hellish landscape of a sea of humanity 30,000 deep adorned in black and yellow. Let’s not get it twisted, Nashville SC’s fans showed up and showed out on Saturday night. They have nothing to be ashamed of.  Their efforts to help their team bring a coveted trophy to their deserving town was top tier. The Nash fans were loud and rowdy in the largest soccer specific stadium in the country and for a building that has only been in existence for a little over a year, the ambiance and hostility of the environment felt like some of the most intense college football games when a big in-state rival comes to town. The tension was so thick, you could cut it with dull safety scissors. The Nashville fans were unlike the previous fans that Messi had run into on the road in Philadelphia and Dallas before them. They were not there to support their team and cheer on the great one. They were there to cheer on their team and boo Mr. Messi. LOUDLY. Every time Lionel even thought about touching the ball, the jeers piped up in a cacophonous monsoon that would have swallowed up a team not as in form and confident as Inter Miami have been.


Championship Analysis: The Atmosphere

Reese Witherspoon walked out to the halfway line of the pitch to support her team. Colby Callait gave us the most monotonous rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” that we have ever heard in an attempt to put Leo to sleep right before match time. They would have been better off throwing out an evolved Jigglypuff to try to sing us to sleep. Giannis Antetokounmpo did the Cristiano Ronaldo goal celebration right in front of Messi while he was warming up to try to get into Messi’s head. It was clear Nashville was not going to pull any punches once the ball was kicked off. I love that kind of stuff. Makes it feel like a proper final even though we were not at a neutral ground like most finals are played.


Championship Analysis: The Game

The referee blew the opening whistle and Miami swung into action with their ball possession tiki taka style innovated by Cruyff, perfected by Guardiola, and imported to Miami via their triple entente of Barcelona legends. Nashville SC showed patience. They pressed, but only when the opportunities were optimal. They played counter attacking direct football when the break was bountiful. However, Drake Callender erased some of their best efforts on goal time after time as the game grew older. It must have been frustrating for Nashville fans.

Combine Callender’s “Man of the Match” performance in goal with that sweet left foot of Messi that has been making defenders and goalkeepers look silly for a generation and you get a bowl of Nashville SC tears that just does not seem fair. On a broken play and out of nowhere a deflected ball ends up at the feet of Lionel Messi, who shifts the ball leftwards on the edge of the box. Everyone on the Nashville side knew what was coming, but they were powerless to stop it. Bang! A left footed upper left corner finish that just left everyone’s mouth on the floor. What. A. Shot. What an impossibly magnificent shot! We have seen shots made from difficult angles towards the upper 90 from outside of the box. Rodri’s left footed finish in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Finals against Bayern Munich comes to mind for sure. However, Messi was in rapid movement away from his target and was being charged by three defenders including American international center back Zimmerman. The goalkeeper, Panicco, saw it coming the whole way. He dove full stretch and was powerless to stop it. He would have needed Reed Richards to have a chance at it. GO-LA-ZOOOOOO!!!! When Miami scored first as we usually do, I was pretty convinced we would end up victorious. Nevertheless, the match was still a riveting game of back-and-forth antics and my emotions would end up as up and down as the needle on a seismograph until the the match was over.

If we are being honest, Nashville SC got their 2nd half tactical adjustments spot on and they generated way more dangerous chances including the set piece on-goal that leveled the match and many more after that. I held my breath more than a few times as Nashville looked like they were for sure going to take the lead and Callender saved all of our lives over and over again. However, the vision of Busquets almost begat the most mind-bending buzzer beater soccer has ever seen. It looked like a futile Hail Mary pass until the hush that permeated Geodis Park as the Nashville fans saw Leonardo Campana control the pass and gain distance from the fullback that was marking him. It was like someone pushed a divine mute button as panic took over their previously fanatically frenzied brains. It looked for all of the world like Campana who was one-versus-one with the keeper was going to bury a stoppage time winner and go celebrate with his Inter Miami teammates as we all tried to logistically sort out what the hell had just happened in our minds. Somehow, Elliot Panicco was able to come off his line and make himself big enough to where Campana was not able to chip the ball over him and keep it on target. Then Campana raced to the loose ball for what looked like a sure tap in and after maneuvering around all obstacles and slide-tackling the ball towards the goal, Campana and Miami were denied by the goalpost. The opposite goalpost that had denied Messi a 2nd golazo earlier in the 2nd half after another brilliant move by the great one.

It was absolutely gut wrenching. I still have no idea how that goal did not go in. It would have been one of the craziest moments in soccer final history and the post robbed us all. Nashville had spent all 9 of their lives on the prayers they sent up to the big man above to stop that one though. The penalty kick shootout was equally dramatic. Starting with a cool finish from Captain Messi, the shootout went the full 11 rounds and every player on the pitch got a percentage of that pressure. The finish was something that even Hollywood producers couldn’t pay good enough money to conjure. It’s not often we see the penalty kick shootout get to the goalies. The last time I saw it was in the 2021 Europa Cup Final between Manchester United and Villareal where David de Gea missed his penalty, and I had never seen it before or since. In this League Cup Final, the goalie showdown was far more dramatic than the Europa Cup finish. Callender absolutely roofed his penalty after a short run up with the confidence of Zlatan furbishing a Ferrari finish. I mean he buried it with no hesitation. Maybe he should take penalties more often. Then Callendar turned around as it was his turn to stand under the gun, between the pipes and made a sublime dummy move to his right. This led Elliot Panicco to shoot in the opposite direction. This was exactly what Callender anticipated and he jumped to his left and made the trophy winning save then ran off to celebrate with his team. Amazing.

The look on Messi’s face after Campana did not score the game winner and the nervous wreck Messi was throughout the entire anxiety wracking penalty kick shootout let us see the human side of football. The tears of joy as David Beckham celebrated with his Inter Miami players after so many years of fighting to make this team’s existence a reality to now winning their first trophy is everything that we love about football. The humility and grace that Lionel Messi showed in handing the Captain’s armband to Miami’s previous Captain, Deandre Yedlin and allowing him to help lift the Leagues Cup trophy before the confetti popped is the beautiful side of football. Yedlin graciously stepped aside to allow Messi to become the captain of this team and Messi acknowledged Yedlin’s sacrifice and contribution to the team in that moment by stepping aside to let Yedlin share the stage with him.


Thankful For Victory

It was a long time coming as Nashville and Miami both entered the MLS the same year, but only one team could win the cup on Saturday night and that team was Inter Miami. I am grateful my team won, but gutted for Nashville as they really did put up the fight of their lives, fans and organization included. However, the hits don’t stop coming for the Herons in Pink because of one cup win. Inter Miami is back in action Wednesday night against the #1 seed in MLS play FC Cincinnati in the semifinal of the Lamar Hunt US Open cup. If Miami wins, they could be in line for their 2nd trophy in as many competitions since Messi has joined the team. However, it won’t be easy. Inter Miami’s path to chase glory has become progressively harder with each opponent being more difficult than the previous one. From Cruz Azul, to Orlando City, to FC Dallas, to Philadelphia Union, and Nashville SC. As if the schedule was set up by a videogame designer, each boss has been tougher than the last. Cincinnati will definitely be Miami’s toughest test yet and then the chase begins as MLS league play resumes immediately thereafter. Vamos Miami!



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