08.03.2024 05:55 h

Messi and Suarez on target

Luis Suarez grabbed a stoppage-time equaliser after Lionel Messi had reduced the deficit as Inter Miami fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup round-of-16 tie on Thursday.

Canadian winger Jacob Shaffelburg had put Nashville 2-0 up with a pair of superbly taken goals before Miami's comeback.

The goals from the former Barcelona forwards, who had scored a brace each in the 5-0 win over Orlando on Saturday, make Miami favourites for Wednesday's return in South Florida with a place in the quarter-finals on the line.

Miami had beaten Nashville on penalties in the final of the Leagues Cup last season and returned for the debuts in CONCACAF regional competition of Messi, Busquets and Suarez.

Coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino handed a debut to new Argentine signing Federico Redondo in midfield but was without Spaniard Jordi Alba, suffering from illness.

But Miami were soon reeling after Nashville's Shaq Moore broke through from midfield and fed Shaffelburg who blasted past Drake Callender with a left-foot drive from the edge of the box.

The Canadian, with the distinctive mullet haircut, doubled the lead two minutes after the interval with an even better finish, cutting in from the left before unleashing an unstoppable shot with his right foot high into the far top corner.

Miami responded strongly though and six minutes later Messi had pulled a goal back with a trademark left-footed curler.

Suarez set him up on the edge of the box and despite having four defenders in close proximity, the Argentine World Cup-winner found space to work the ball on to his left foot and then find the corner.

Miami had an effort from Diego Gomez disallowed for offside but Nashville weren't ready to set their backs against the wall just yet.

Moore cut in from the right and beat Callender to send the 30,109 crowd wild but a VAR review found that Moore had been narrowly offside from earlier in the move and the goal was disallowed.

But then deep in stoppage time, the ball was fed out to Busquets on the right and the Spanish veteran floated in a cross which was headed home by Suarez.

"It leaves us in a good position for the second 90 minutes, which are going to be as tough as today and the other games we have played with Nashville," said Martino.

"We put the game at risk at the start of the first and second half... We came in with less intensity than the opponent put in.

"There are 10 or 15 minutes in each half that could have cost us the game. For an hour we controlled the ball very well, we circulated the ball well, we had chances to score but we could also be 3-0 down seven or eight minutes into the second half," he said.

Nashville's English manager Gary Smith was upset about Moore's disallowed goal and felt his team should have had a penalty in the first half but he was proud of his team's display.

"Hell of a game. I'm very, very proud of the performance from the guys, we created an awful lot against an exceptional team. I see no reason why we won't go to Miami and put on a real show. There's still plenty of mileage in this tie," he said.

Earlier, Monterrey's USA striker Brandon Vazquez scored on his return to his former club Cincinnati as the Mexican club enjoyed a 1-0 win in their first-leg tie on Thursday.

Cincinnati had started brightly and had the ball in the net in the 18th minute but Corey Baird's effort was ruled out for offside.

Six minutes later though, the Liga MX team were ahead and it was the former home favourite Vazquez who produced the breakthrough.

Maximiliano Mesa found the forward in the box and his right-foot effort crept under the body of Cincinnati keeper Roman Celentano, who should have done much better.

It was Vazquez's seventh goal in 11 appearances since joining the five-times CONCACAF champions in and will strengthen his case for inclusion in Gregg Berhalter's USA squad for the upcoming Nations League Final Four.

Monterrey were reduced to ten men in the 70th minute when a VAR review ruled that Rodrigo Aguirre had struck Baird, off the ball, before a corner.