Nashville come up empty in brutal Leagues Cup loss

Soccer is beautiful.

Lionel Messi’s 23rd minute goal against Nashville SC in Miami’s Leagues Cup final win last night was a prime example of that. The greatest player ever showed exactly why he is the greatest, pouncing on one of the rare moments of time and space Nashville afforded him, reacting quicker, deciding decisively, and executing flawlessly.

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Messi’s goal was simply beautiful.

Nashville’s equalizer was also beautiful, but beautiful in a different way. The goal itself was scrappy, quirky, fortunate. Fafà Picault’s initial header bounced around before crossing the line, flirting with the gray area between a goal and an own goal. But the reaction from the crowd, the explosion of emotion, the release of pent-up anxiety, that was truly magical.

“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Dax McCarty told me after the game. The 36-year-old midfielder, holding tight to the Lionel Messi game-worn jersey coveted by every player around the world, had come so close to a trophy, and once again had fallen just short. Even amidst the disappointment, he was composed, gracious, and generous with his time.

“I can’t say enough about our supporters,” he marveled. “The people have been with us since day one. These fans, they were just waiting to explode. When we scored, that was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium in Nashville. It was just unbelievable. An unbelievable feeling to be in a game of that magnitude in front of our fans.”

Soccer is brutal.

Instead of lifting the first trophy in club history in front of 30,109 fans at Geodis Park, Nashville players quietly gathered off to the side, half-heartedly holding their runners up medals and ruing missed opportunities, watching Lionel Messi and DeAndre Yedlin lift their first trophy on Nashville’s field.

Instead of a historic win for their city, Nashville’s players, many of whom are closer to the end of their careers than the start, were left to wonder when (or even if) they’d ever have a chance to lift a trophy again.

Nashville were the first MLS team to truly limit Messi. They gave him two chances. He hit the post on one. He scored a world-class goal on the other, somehow defying physics to dance past Walker Zimmerman. The American center-back even got a strong foot on the ball, but was left looking on in shock as Messi somehow maintained the ball and rifled a shot into the top corner, a shot that he’s made hundreds of times in his career, but one that left Geodis Park in awe.

Nashville came close. Painfully close.

Now, instead of a once in a lifetime moment, they’re left with disappointment. They’ll move on. They have a regular season match on Saturday, one of 10 games left to earn their spot in the playoffs and try for a cup again. There’s a lot to look forward to.

But in the immediate aftermath, the sting is hard to ignore. Talk of taking lessons from the loss and doing better the next time is certainly true, necessary even, but in the moment it’s overwhelmed by the sinking feeling of emptiness in every Nashville player’s stomach.

Soccer is beautiful. Soccer is also brutal. Nashville saw both sides of that coin last night.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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