Messi gets start but Miami flames out of CCC

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MONTERREY, Mexico — Lionel Messi‘s return to the Inter Miami starting lineup was in vain as his team was eliminated from the Concacaf Champions Cup by Monterrey at BBVA Stadium on Wednesday night.

Miami came into the match trailing 2-1 from the first leg of the quarterfinal, and things only got worse in the second as Monterrey bottled up Messi and scored three goals to win the tie 5-2 on aggregate.

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Brandon Vazquez opened the scoring for the home side in the first half in front of a sold-out crowd, and Germán Berterame and Jesús Gallardo added a classy goal each in the second to put the quarterfinal well out of reach.

A visibly frustrated Jordi Alba was sent off late in the second half after receiving two yellow cards for a pair of rash challenges, leaving Miami to finish the game with 10 players.

Diego Gomez headed in a consolation goal for Miami from a Messi free kick before full-time, but Monterrey was firmly in control of the game and held on to advance to the semifinals.

Monterrey will face the lone remaining MLS side in the CCC in the next round when it takes on the Columbus Crew, with the first leg scheduled for April 23.

Messi has been out of Miami’s starting lineup since March 13 with a right thigh injury, although he did come on as a substitute and score a goal in the second half of a draw with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

Head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino had teased the return of his star on Tuesday in the news conference ahead of the match by confirming Messi’s fitness level.

“Well, he’s good. He felt good after playing 45 minutes in the MLS match against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday,” Martino said. “We still have today’s training, so we shall see. But the injury continues to be left behind, which is the most important part.”

The World Cup winner with Argentina left Miami’s CCC round-of-16 match against Nashville early in the second half on March 13 with a right thigh injury that also kept him out of a pair of friendlies with the national team.

The MLS side bypassed the initial round of the Champions Cup by winning the inaugural edition of Leagues Cup in 2023, before beating Nashville in the round of 16 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Miami, which is third in MLS’ Eastern Conference, next play a road game against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

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