On a wild, electric, hot, and surreal Sunday night in Frisco, FC Dallas almost did the unprecedented, but the greatest of all time was ultimately too much for the Burn to overcome.
The madness began as soon as FC Dallas’ matchup with Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup Round of 16 was confirmed last Wednesday evening. First came the ticketing experience. For those fortunate season ticket holders who had pre-purchased the Leagues Cup package, their lives were made easy as they were able to avoid the insanity of jumping on AXS to attempt to purchase tickets.
With the cheapest seats starting at $199, it was a true feeding frenzy to attempt to get tickets on both Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and almost immediately, tickets went up on the resale market with people attempting to make thousands and thousands of dollars from folks desperate to see Messi come to Frisco.
It was surely a bizarre preparation for the match for FCD, as an unprecedented amount of media attention was hoisted on the club, likely the most attention the club has ever gotten from local sports media, which is typically more focused on the seasonal food offerings at the stadium than anything the team is doing on the pitch.
Nkosi Tafari delivered an all-time great media quote to the local NBC affiliate, telling the camera bluntly that the only reason he was being interviewed at all was because of Messi.
— Sam (@Sam_DTID) August 5, 2023
As the game drew closer, questions from fans about how many FCD fans would even be in the building were raised, and some controversy occurred when FCD supporters group El Matador published a statement criticizing the Leagues Cup, MLS, and the FC Dallas front office for the ticket prices which would ensure that many members, including the band La Murga 117, would not be able to enter the stadium. It led to an uneasy situation for many FC Dallas fans who were trying to prepare for the biggest event in club history.
On game day itself, the circus kicked into overdrive with truly surreal scenes outside Toyota Stadium. With people lining up to get into the stadium hours before gates were even set to open at 7 pm, lines stretched and wrapped around the stadium and around to the sidewalks well outside the stadium. Street vendors hawked knock-off Messi and Miami merchandise, sold hot dogs and sausages, and sold waters, sodas, and beers out of open coolers lining the sidewalks. Parking for non-season ticket holders was increased from the usual $20 to $50, which didn’t deter anyone from filling up the parking lots (after all, if you paid hundreds for your tickets in the first place, what’s $50 more to park?). Miami was late to even get into the stadium, leading to a delay in gates being opened and frustration from hot and tired attendees.
But finally, as kickoff drew near, the actual soccer on the pitch came into focus. With the crowd a rather awkward mix of FC Dallas, Barcelona, PSG, and Miami jerseys, it was hard to tell who was there to root for FCD and who was there just for Messi. The anticipation in the building was palpable, and it was surely the largest actual butts-in-seats crowd that Toyota Stadium has ever seen. Alan Velasco chatted idly with his hero as the awkward Leagues Cup pregame concluded, and then, finally, the whistle blew for kickoff.
Whatever FCD’s preparations were, they worked because the Burn came out firing and had the ball in the back of the net within the first few minutes, but Jesus Ferreira’s finish was called as the forward was just slightly offside. The frantic start to the game continued, and with Miami’s first real foray into the Dallas third, a similar scene played out for anyone who has watched Barcelona in the last 10 years as a ball came out to Jordi Alba wide and his cutback cross found Lionel Messi is a stunning amount of space just outside the box and the Argentine finished perfectly, curling his shot past Maarten Paes’ outstretched arm with a goal that echoed his famous goal against Real Madrid a few years ago.
It would have been easy for Dallas’ heads to drop at that moment and for them to succumb to the seemingly inevitable nature of Messi and Miami in this competition but to their immense credit, Dallas was on the front foot following Miami’s goal. Alan Velasco was clearly up for the game and was repeatedly a thorn in Miami’s side. Dallas’ efforts were finally rewarded late in the first half as a nice build-up resulted in a well-played ball from Sebastian Lletget out wide to Marco Farfan that was fizzed across the box and found Facundo Quignon, who finished extremely well to level the game at 1-1. Dallas’ efforts would be further rewarded just before halftime as a brilliant counter move found its way to Bernard Kamungo, who maneuvered past multiple Miami defenders before rounding Drake Callendar and finishing, putting FCD up 2-1 at halftime.
Dallas came out of the halftime break ready to continue where they left off, with two huge chances coming in the first five minutes. First, Marco Farfan bent a lovely cross towards Kamungo, who put his header wide, and then Farfan was at it again, bending his cross toward Jesus Ferreira, whose header went just wide of the post. Ferreira then missed another golden opportunity, failing to get a shot away on a breakaway. He simply took too long to get his feet right, allowing Miami defender Kamal Miller to make a great hustle play to get back and break up the play. Nico Estevez was the first to go to his bench, bringing on Eugene Ansah and Paul Arriola in straight swaps for Kamungo and Jader Obrian. A few minutes later, Dallas’ pressure was rewarded as Alan Velasco’s extremely dangerous free kick went untouched in the box and nestled into the corner of the goal, 3-1 Dallas.
Tata Martino immediately responded with a substitution of his own, bringing on 18-year-old Benjamin Cresmaschi, who would score with one of his first touches just a minute later, with Messi and Alba combining again with Alba cutting it back on the end line to Cremaschi, who was lost by the FCD defense and midfield and smashed the ball into the Dallas net, 3-2.
At this point, the game had truly gone bananas, and just 3 minutes later, Dallas found themselves on another counter with the ball coming out to Paul Arriola wide on the right wing, who attempted to square it to Ferreira. Miami winger Robert Taylor made an incredible run to make a sliding challenge to intervene but ended up putting the ball in his own net to make it 4-2.
Unfortunately for Dallas, it was all downhill from there, as the substitutes simply could not maintain the quality of the starters. Paxton Pomykal replaced Sebastian Lletget before Dallas’ final subs saw Tsiki Ntsabeleng and Ema Twumasi replace Alan Velasco (who, it should be noted, was absolutely gassed and limped off the field) and Geovane Jesus. Dallas’ possession of the ball, which was already a bit low, wholly evaporated, and Miami continued to pour on more and more pressure to get back into the game.
In the 80th minute, an unfortunate handball from Ntsabeleng led to a dangerous Miami free kick. Messi, of course, stepped up and whipped a dangerous ball towards the back post that was thundered home by…Marco Farfan? The FCD defender’s header that was smashed past Maarten Paes has been an internet-wide topic of discussion, with it leading many to question whether or not there was some kind of intent to it. Farfan appeared to get his angles horribly wrong and perhaps expected a touch from a Miami player or a teammate.
Five minutes later, Eugene Ansah fouled Robert Taylor just outside the box and set up what any Dallas fan feared, a Messi free kick from the right just outside the box. It was pretty predictable from there, with Messi basically passing the ball into the top corner past a helpless Maarten Paes to level the game at 4-4. Dallas did manage to hang on and force penalties and become the first team to not lose to the new Messi version of Miami in regulation, but things felt inevitable from there.
Messi stepped up to start the penalty shootout and coolly dispatched his penalty before Paul Arriola and Sergio Busquets did the same. But poor Paxton Pomykal attempted to smash his penalty down the middle and skied it. Leonardo Campana, Facundo Quignon, Kamal Miller, and Jesus Ferreira all converted penalties before Benjamin Cremaschi again played a starring role, scoring Miami’s 5th consecutive penalty and knocking Dallas out of the Leagues Cup.
It was a heartbreaker at the end for FC Dallas, who spent large parts of the game outplaying Inter Miami and looked poised to screw up a whole lot of scripts, but ultimately, they couldn’t maintain their play over the 90 minutes, and Lionel Messi did what Lionel Messi has done his entire career. The sell-out crowd was treated to an absolutely electric game, with the match taking on a cup final kind of feel with the split in the crowd and their rooting interests (many folks were certainly cheering for both FCD and Messi simultaneously). Despite the ticketing issues, the Dallas supporters section was in great voice and ensured that the game didn’t end up feeling like a home game for Messi.
Time will tell what kind of lasting impact this has on FC Dallas. For the immediate future, Dallas now gets a couple of weeks off before resuming MLS play on August 20th in Philadelphia (though this could certainly change if the Union gets far enough in the Leagues Cup). If they were able to sway anyone on the fence about coming to a game, it certainly helps that the next home game should be another electric one as Austin FC come to town for a major Copa Tejas showdown accompanied by a post-game drone show.
Despite the result, the players should be proud of themselves for their performances. For perhaps the first time in club history, FC Dallas was put on a global stage. Although they weren’t successful in their ultimate goal, they pushed the greatest of all time to the brink and were a couple of bounces and moments away from doing the unthinkable and knocking him out of this competition. It is a night that no one who was in attendance will forget any time soon.