Nashville holds Lionel Messi in check in draw vs. Inter Miami

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Aug 30, 2023; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA; Inter Miami defender Kamal Miller (31) slide tackles Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) during the second half at DRV PNK Stadium.

Aug 30, 2023; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA; Inter Miami defender Kamal Miller (31) slide tackles Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) during the second half at DRV PNK Stadium.
Image: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Lionel Messi went scoreless for the first time in an Inter Miami home game as Nashville SC escaped with a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night.

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Messi had scored 11 times in his first nine appearances for the Herons, including in his MLS regular season debut in a 2-0 win at the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night.

But after playing to a 1-1 draw against Nashville in Tennessee in the Leagues Cup final, which Miami eventually won on penalties, the Coyotes came to Florida intent to sit deep and defend.

Miami (6-14-4, 22 points) outshot Nashville 13-7 overall and 4-2 in efforts on target, but in truth they rarely seriously threatened Elliott Panicco’s goal.

The setback will narrow the Herons’ margin for error for making the playoffs. They started the night 11 points beneath the Eastern Conference playoff line with 11 games remaining, including two in hand.

Panicco made four stops to keep his first clean sheet in Nashville’s eighth of the season in his first league start this campaign. Miami’s Drake Callender made two saves to preserve he and his club’s fourth shutout.

Nashville (11-9-6, 39 points) snapped a four-match losing streak in league play despite missing three key players to start the match, with reigning MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar beginning on the bench and defender Walker Zimmerman and striker Sam Surridge out injured.

But manager Gary Smith’s rotated squad was especially impressive before Mukhtar and Jacob Shaffelburg came on at half for the visitors, holding the Herons to only three shots before the interval, with none of those on target.

Miami’s first effort on frame finally came through Messi in the 61st minute when Panicco made a relatively routine save of his direct free kick from about 22 yards out.

Five minutes later, Shaffelburg had a wide-open look denied by Callendar on the break five minutes later, and not long after that Mukhtar had a goal correctly disallowed for being offside.

Messi had one of Miami’s few quality chances deep in second-half stoppage time when he weaved into the box from the right. But Panicco again was up for the challenge, forcing the effort wide for a corner that came to nothing.

—Field Level Media

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