Alvaro Barreal scored in the 78th minute for FC Cincinnati, and Lionel Messi’s return was not enough to save Inter Miami’s season as Cincinnati prevailed 1-0 on Saturday night in rainy Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Inter Miami (9-17-6, 33 points) was eliminated from playoff contention due to its loss combined with CF Montreal’s win over the Portland Timbers.
Messi played for the first time since September 20 after missing two weeks with a reaggravated scar tissue injury in his leg. He subbed on in the 55th minute but could not capitalise on a few chances in Cincinnati’s end.
FC Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) continued the best season in its young franchise history. It had already clinched the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record in the regular season.
Roman Celentano made two saves for Cincinnati. Drake Callender had five saves for Miami.
Inter Miami had possession for 61.6 percent of the game, but just two of their 16 shot attempts were on target.
Inter Miami controlled play in the first half and hit the woodwork on three separate occasions. Tomas Aviles hit the crossbar head-on from the centre of the box, Josef Martinez pinged the far post with a shot and Benjamin Cremaschi had a shot go off the crossbar before the end of the scoreless first half.
Messi came on for Aviles and quickly won a free kick in scoring range in the 59th minute, but he sent his attempt well over the crossbar.
Cincinnati finally broke through by getting a steal in Miami’s end. Yuya Kubo moved in and fired on Callender, who parried it to his right. But Barreal was charging in on that side and easily deposited it in the net for his fifth goal of the season.
In the 87th minute, Messi got a left-footed shot through some traffic, but it dribbled past the net and out of play.
Messi drew two late fouls near the box, one in the 90th minute and one in stoppage time. On the first free kick, Messi tried to cross the ball in to a teammate and Cincinnati cleared it, setting up a fruitless Miami corner kick.
On the latter, Messi’s shot at goal went over the bar again.