Lionel Messi keeps scoring goals, and Inter Miami keeps winning games.
Messi ripped a shot from 30 yards past three Philadelphia defenders in the 20th minute that made fans who paid a record price for soccer tickets in the Philly area rejoice, and Inter Miami beat the Union 4-1 in a Leagues Cup semifinal on Tuesday night.
Major League Soccer is Messi's league now.
The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner scored his ninth goal in six matches with his new team in front of a crowd that pushed 20,000 fans, with ticket prices soaring past USD 1,000 on the secondary market.
There were few complaints.
Certainly not from three Union season-ticket holders who ditched the home team's garb for a night and traded it for Messi gear. Or fans that lined up for Messi jerseys authenticity not guaranteed and the ones hungry at a food truck for Messi fries.
And certainly not from the Union, who, of course wanted to win, but otherwise stuffed the coffers and received more worldwide attention on one night than in any game they've played in their history.
Fans erupted when Messi was introduced and went wild again when he scored past diving goalkeeper Andre Blake. Messi ran with his arms extended and then punched his fist in the air as he leapt in celebration.
The rest was almost incidental.
Jordi Alba and Josef Martinez also scored in the first half for Miami, and David Ruiz scored in the second. Miami will play in the Leagues Cup championship game Saturday against either Nashville or Mexican club Monterrey.
Alejandro Bedoya scored in the second half for Philadelphia.
Union principal owner Jay Sugarman told The Associated Press there was no real consideration given to moving the game from Subaru Park to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles. While the football stadium would have packed in another 40,000-plus fans, Sugarman said coach Jim Curtain told him the game would stay put.
"We have a great relationship with the Eagles, a bunch of them are going to be here tonight, but this is a meaningful tournament with a lot on the line," Sugarman said.
"We want to win trophies and when Jim says this is the place we're going to win, then that's where we're playing."
Philly native and Hall of Fame boxer Bernard Hopkins struck the 6-foot drum that welcomed the team to the field and Sixers center and NBA MVP Joel Embiid, who played soccer as a child in Cameroon, showed interest in the game.
"Make sure y'all show love to the (goat) in our city tonight but let's first get this dub #DOOP #Philly," he wrote on social media.
Inter Miami already played in Chester before Messi had signed, leaving Union officials to study the Leagues Cup field like an NCAA Tournament bracket once it was announced.
"You try not to, but of course we were like, if we do this, and they do this," Sugarman said, laughing.
"We hope we're playing in front of a worldwide audience tonight. It's a chance for the Philadelphia Union to put on the best show we can against one of the best teams and best players."
Led by the rabid supporters group called "Sons of Ben," the Messi game sold out in less than 10 minutes and the price exploded this week on the secondary market. River End seats that normally go for USD 43 spiked to more than a grand, and the average price of USD 556 was the highest in Union history. An hour or so before the game, tickets in the lower level were still going for USD 450 and up.
Outside the stadium, it was Messi Mania for the superstar, who led Argentina to the World Cup title last year and has essentially become a one-man 1992 Dream Team.
Angel Pagan and her family, of Vineland, New Jersey, all wore Messi shirts even though they are Union season-ticket holders. They love Messi so much, their youngest son is named Lionel in his honor. She upgraded her tickets for the game to sit closer to the field and said only they were "very, very expensive."
"We didn't care what it cost," she said. "It's Messi."
Under Curtain, in his 10th season, the Union blossomed into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and clinched their first Supporters' Shield trophy awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record in 2020. A season ago, the Union fell to LAFC in the MLS Cup. Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant thought enough of the Union's potential to buy a stake in the team.
The Union's path and all other teams' to an MLS championship suddenly seems complicated by Messi's arrival.
"This is a fantastic league with a growing fanbase, but you always need that match to really light it," Sugarman said. "Messi is the match.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)