Concacaf Champions Cup: Messi, Suárez stun Nashville; Vázquez nets winner in Cincinnati return

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Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez scored in the second half to help Inter Miami overcome a two-goal deficit and leave Nashville with a 2-2 tie in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions Cup round of 16 series.

Messi, who led the Herons past the hosts in last year’s Leagues Cup final win that qualified Miami for this tournament, started the comeback that his former Barcelona sidekick Suárez completed with a thrilling stoppage time equalizer:

Inter Miami’s Luis Suarez nails a header in stoppage time to even the score against Nashville SC

The decisive match of the two game, total-goals-wins matchup will be played next Wednesday in South Florida.

In Thursday’s first Champions Cup match, Mexican powerhouse Monterrey survived a second half red card and held on for a 1-0 win over MLS side FC Cincinnati. U.S. national team striker Brandon Vázquez scored the game winner for the Rayodos against his former club.

Here are three quick thoughts on Thursday’s thrilling doubleheader.

Messi, Suárez lead Miami’s comeback 

The last time the GOAT was in Tennessee, he was boarding a charter flight back to Miami with the club’s first trophy in tow.

Nashville came out Thursday determined to exact revenge for that indignity, and the hosts were well on their way thanks to two superb goals by Canadian winger Jacob Shaffelburg early in each half. The second was particularly well-taken:

Jacob Shaffelburg delivers a FEROCIOUS strike to give Nashville SC a 2-0 lead over Inter Miami

Miami, which was without veteran fullback Jordi Alba because of illness but welcomed blue chip Argentine debutant Federico Redondo, was hanging on for dear life at that point. Then, right on cue, Messi made something out of nothing when he took a pass from Suárez and pulled back the first of what could be two vital away goals:

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Lionel Messi scores a CLINCIAL goal against Nashville SC

The visitors dodged a bullet when what looked like a third by Nashville was ruled offside by the video assistant referee. A few minutes later, the Herons were somehow on even terms. And they have  to like their chances of finishing the job in Ft. Lauderdale next week and continuing the quest for an even more impressive piece of silverware this spring.

Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF CONCACAF Champions Cup Highlights | FOX Soccer

 Vázquez plays the hero … and the villain

It was all hugs and smiles as Brandon Vázquez greeted his ex-FC Cincinnati teammates on the handshake line just before his Monterrey kicked off Thursday’s first leg against FCC at TQL Stadium in Ohio.

Once the match began, it didn’t take long for the U.S. men’s national team striker to punish his friends and his former club with what could end up being a fatal blow:

The 24th minute strike stood up. And while Vázquez — who didn’t celebrate his goal out of respect for the fans who used to cheer him — came close to adding another with a header that FCC keeper Roman Celentano saved just before halftime, the away goal gives the Rayodos a significant advantage heading into the second leg at Estadio BBVA on March 14.

That probably doesn’t sit well with too many FCC supporters. Even the ones who understood the club’s decision to cash in on Vázquez this winter probably didn’t bank on the 25-year-old helping end their Champions League run before it ever really got started.

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Daunting trips to Mexico await three MLS teams

There were three MLS-Liga MX matchups in the front half of the round of 16, all hosted by teams from the former. MLS won none of them. The first two, Philadelphia Union-Pachuca and Orlando City-Tigres, finished scoreless. Monterrey has a 1-0 aggregate lead after the third.

Those results could lead to a quick death south of the border, where American clubs almost never emerge victorious. Since 2008, MLS has won just three of 43 knockout matches in Mexico. One silver lining: thanks to the away goals tiebreaker, a single goal by either Philly or the Lions in the second leg would allow either to advance with a draw. Cincinnati, meantime, must score in Monterrey to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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