Lionel Messi, Inter Miami have trophy in sight vs. Nashville SC

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Field Level Media
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Aug 15, 2023; Chester, PA, USA; Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Subaru Park.
Aug 15, 2023; Chester, PA, USA; Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Subaru Park.
Image: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Lionel Messi is poised to lead Inter Miami to their first major title when the club visits a Nashville SC side also searching for its first hardware Saturday night in the Leagues Cup final.

Miami and Nashville both joined Major League Soccer in 2020 as expansion teams, but have had drastically different approaches to life in the league.

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Inter Miami have sought stars from the start, with French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi and Argentine World Cup finalist Gonzalo Higuain among those in the past to wear the Herons' distinctive pink uniform.

Then they made the most publicized signing in MLS history this summer to acquire Messi only nine months after he led Argentina to a World Cup title. And the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has delivered, scoring nine goals in the tournament since his debut in the group opener and assisting four more scores.

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Messi's most recent goal came in a 4-1 semifinal win at the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday, and his 10th could help Miami make history.

"It would be great, incredible for me, for the fans and for the club itself," Messi said of potentially lifting the Leagues Cup, according to a translation by the Sporting News. "It's a very young club. Trying to get the first title would be beautiful for everyone."

Miami will have to earn it the hard way against Nashville, a club that has taken a more measured but just as successful approach to its early life in MLS.

The Men in Gold have focused on signing lower-tier, prime-age talent from abroad and combining it with a veteran-laden core.

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The best of those international signings has been Hany Mukhtar, a Germany native who is again the frontrunner for MLS MVP honors after winning the award last season.

And summer addition Sam Surridge of England has scored in his last three appearances, including the eventual winner in an impressive 2-0 semifinal home win against Mexico giants CF Monterrey.

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"It's a really great feeling to beat a team that good," Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty said of the most recent win, "knowing that we have a final coming up here at home against another great team that's going to do similar things to what Monterrey tries to accomplish in possession."

—Field Level Media