Nashville SC took the field in the Leagues Cup final this weekend, and the city was buzzing.
Though a win would have brought the club their first-ever major trophy, much of the excitement may have had more to do with the team’s opponent.
Even though the game was in Nashville, Geodis Park wasn’t a sea of gold and blue. Instead, many attendees bore the jerseys of Nashville SC’s opponent, Inter Miami CF. Others wore the blue and white stripes of Argentina’s national football team. All had one thing in common: player Lionel Messi.
The presence of the Argentinian soccer star reverberated in the stands.
One young fan, Nashville resident Sergio Gutierrez, said he normally roots for his home team. But today, while sporting a Nashville SC kit, he declared he was rooting for “Messi! I want Messi to win. I don’t know why I have this,” Gutierrez said while pointing to his jersey.
When it became clear that Inter Miami — with Messi in tow — would be coming to Nashville, ticket prices skyrocketed. Three days before the game, the highest-priced seats crept close to $9,000.
That meant that some fans couldn’t afford to go. But not everyone let this stop them. Devoted fans gathered outside the gates to peek in at the big screen and listen to the cheers. That included 14-year-old Nathan Burns, who said he was dedicated to Nashville SC.
“I just have to stay loyal to it. But I also cheer for Messi, just because he’s one of the greats.”
Ultimately, Messi (and Miami) did prevail. Early on, he scored his team’s only goal. But, pulling off the win wasn’t easy — Nashville matched Miami’s goal with a header from Fafà Picault, and the game ended in a nail-biting, 11-round penalty shootout.
When the goalkeepers finally stepped up to take their shots, Miami’s Drake Callender blocked Nashville keeper Elliot Panicco’s attempt, giving Messi fans the win they were hoping for: Inter Miami CF took home their first-ever Leagues Cup trophy.