Messi starts, but Inter Miami trounced 3-1 by Monterrey, ousted from Champions Cup

Cerro de la Silla, a breathtaking 6,000-foot mountain and symbol of the Mexican city of Monterrey, provided the perfect backdrop for the Champions Cup quarterfinal late Wednesday night between Inter Miami and Monterrey.

The mountain towers over Estadio BBVA, which was appropriate for Lionel Messi and his pink-clad teammates, who faced an uphill climb from the start, needing to win and score at least two goals in the decisive leg of the series.

They did neither, losing 3-1 to the Mexican team and 5-2 on aggregate score after being outplayed most of the night. Miami was punished for multiple defensive miscues and created few scoring opportunities. It was Inter Miami’s most lopsided loss with Messi on the field, and the team finished the game a man down after a red card to a visibly frustrated Jordi Alba.

Although fans lined the streets to welcome Messi to town the night before, he was booed by the sellout crowd of 53,500 every time he touched the ball Wednesday night. Rayados fans went home happy as their team heads to the semifinals to face defending MLS champion Columbus Crew, which beat Mexican team Tigres on Tuesday.

Messi, who missed the first leg of the quarterfinal with a hamstring injury, was in the starting lineup on Wednesday, along with the rest of the fabulous four – Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Alba. It was Messi’s first start since March 13.

The Argentine star came off the bench as a substitute in the league game over Colorado Rapids last weekend, scoring a second-half goal in a 2-2 tie. Coach Tata Martino had said Messi felt good after playing 45 minutes in that game and that his injury seemed to be behind him.

Messi surely was especially motivated after a heated argument last week with Monterrey head coach Fernando “Tano” Ortiz, who had insinuated before the first leg that referees would favor Inter Miami because of Messi, and assistant coach Nico Sanchez, who called Messi a “dwarf” with a “devilish face”.

Concacaf announced Wednesday night that it fined Inter Miami for the post-game incident at Chase Stadium.

“After considering the documentation and evidence gathered during their inveestigation, which included requesting written statements from both clubs and thoroughly reviewing the reports submitted by the match officials, and based on the competiton’s regulatiosn and the applicable Disciplinary Code, the Disciplinary Commitee has fined Inter Miami CF an undisclosed amount for lack of security in their stadium.

“Furthermore, the Committee has warned Inter Miami CF that more severe sanctions could be taken should incidents occur during their future matches in Concacaf club competitons.”

Messi looked ready to play on Wednesday night, but the Argentine had no magic tricks in his hat. His dejected face said it all as he trudged off the field after the final whistle. Inter Miami co-owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas, shown on TV, looked equally gutted.

“I thought we competed very well against Nashville (in the Round of 16), and the first game against Monterrey, and in this game until the goal of (German) Berterame,” Martino said, referring to Monterrey’s second goal. “That is where the tournament ended for us. That goal in the 15th minute of the second half took us out of the game...In any case, it is the just result that Monterrey advances.”

Messi and Suarez started up top, with Diego Gomez, Sergio Busquets and Julian Gressel leading the midfield attack. Martino went with five in back, Alba, Noah Allen, Nico Freire, Tomas Aviles, Marcelo “Chelo” Weigandt.

Drake Callender started in goal, and made a couple of early saves, but his error in the 31st minute proved costly. He made a weak pass from the back, which was intercepted by American Brandon Vazquez in front of the goal, and Vazquez capitalized.

Things got worse for Miami in the second half. Berterame found a hole in the Miami back line and fired a perfect shot to the top right corner in the 58th minute and eight minutes later, an unmarked Jesus Gallardo made it 3-0 with a header.

Despite the team’s struggles, Martino elected not to make any substitutions.

“All the players we had on the bench were young players, we were not in a situation to use them, I did not want to throw them into adverse conditions, so I felt it was best to finish the game with the players who started,” Martino said after the game.

Alba, clearly frustrated, was slapped with a pair of yellow cards four minutes apart late in the game and Miami had to finish the game with 10 men.

Gomez scored a late consolation goal in the 85th minute after heading home a Messi assist, but nobody celebrated. After the game, Martino and Ortiz did not shake hands.

Inter Miami aimed to prove that it had what it took to compete with Mexican heavyweight Monterrey, and fans had high hopes as Messi returned to the starting lineup. Clearly, Monterrey was the better team and Inter Miami has a lot of work to do.

Martino added that he feels MLS teams will continue to have trouble competing with Liga MX teams as long as MLS has such stringent roster rules. He said he hoped the rules would relax in the near future.

Leo Campana and Sergiy Kryvtsov missed the game for Inter Miami with injuries. David Ruiz was suspended after a red card in the home leg.

Miami resumes its MLS schedule on the road Saturday at Kansas City and returns home for an April 20 game against Nashville SC.

“It was disappointing to lose here and go out of the competition,” Gressel said. “We wanted to advance. We knew Monterrey was a very good team and obviously a tough opponent. They played really well and we made some mistakes that ultimately cost us. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and we can move on to the next competition and do well.”