Blow For Messi, Miami MLS Playoff Hopes As Cincinnati Clinch

FC Cincinnati led the way into the Major League Soccer playoffs on Wednesday, but Inter Miami’s slender playoff aspirations were dashed with a goalless draw against Nashville.

Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez scored in the second half to propel Cincinnati to a 2-1 victory at Atlanta, where Colombian Edwin Mosquera’s first MLS goal had put the hosts ahead in the 10th minute.

Cincinnati’s first victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium moved the Eastern Conference leaders to 57 points and the first berth in the MLS Cup playoffs with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Miami made little progress in their unlikely effort to make the playoffs, as they were held scoreless for the first time in Messi’s ten appearances.

The Argentine forward had 11 goals in nine appearances for Inter Miami, including their League Cup victory, a US Open Cup semi-final, and his regular-season debut off the bench in New York on Saturday.

The workload may have finally caught up with him on Wednesday, when he was unable to perform in front of another star-studded crowd at a windswept DRV PNK Stadium, which included boxing great Floyd Mayweather and FIFA boss Gianni Infantino.

The draw left Miami 10 points out of the final playoff spot with 10 games remaining

They travel across the country to take on MLS Cup champions Los Angeles FC on Sunday.

After coming off the bench in the 60th minute in New York, Messi and former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets both started the game.

Despite dominating possession for much of the first half, Miami struggled to produce meaningful chances against Nashville’s disciplined defense.

In the 60th minute, Messi drew a foul on Nashville’s Dax McCarty and stepped up to take a free kick, but his effort to the bottom left corner was brought in by Nashville goalkeeper Elliot Panicco.

Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar had a goal erased by an offside call in the 69th minute.

Messi had another free kick from a dangerous position in the 83rd minute but his shot caromed harmlessly off the wall of defenders.

Miami looked to have one last chance deep in injury time when Messi received a ball from Busquets and dribbled past two defenders, but his low right-footed shot was saved.

“What we have to do is move on,” said Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

“This can happen. It is true that we were a bit unaccustomed to this. The titles, the final, with a league game won the other day in New York, but we must move forward. There are still many things left to say.”

In Atlanta, Mosquera blasted home a deflected cross to put the hosts up early.

In the 75th minute, Acosta leveled the score by separating two players and playing a pass to Junior Moreno, who headed the ball down to Acosta, who beat Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan with a one-time shot into the top corner.

Acosta grabbed the ball in midfield and sent it to Alvaro Barreal on the left wing five minutes later. Cincinnati’s 17th victory came after Barreal’s pass found Vazquez, who scored his fifth goal of the season.

Toronto stun Philadelphia 

With a 1-0 victory over the visiting New York Red Bulls, the New England Revolution took sole ownership of second place in the East with 46 points.

Giacomo Vrioni scored his fourth game-winning goal of the season, while Earl Edwards made two saves for the Revs, who began the day tied with Orlando and the Philadelphia Union with 43 points.

Orlando earned a point with a 1-1 tie against Charlotte, but Philadelphia was defeated 3-1 in Toronto, snapping an eight-match losing skid.

Western Conference leaders St. Louis City defeated 10-man FC Dallas 2-1 with to late goals from Anthony Markanich and Nokkvi Thorisson.

Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes was handed a red card in the 12th minute when he came off his line in pursuit of a loose ball and it touched his left arm out of the box.

Backup keeper Jimmy Maurer entered the game and forward Jesus Jimenez came out.

St. Louis finally capitalized in the 82nd minute through Markanich and Thorisson followed with what proved to be the game-winner three minutes later as St. Louis extended their lead to seven points over LAFC, who were idle.

Eugene Ansah scored on a rebound for Dallas in stoppage time.

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