St. Louis City’s Chris Durkin scores on Inter Miami’s goalkeeper Drake Callender (1) as midfielder Federico Redondo (55) defends during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - On the back of a three-game losing skid, optimism was not high among St. Louis City fans before their trip to South Florida to take on the best soccer player of all time and his supporting cast known as “Inter Miami”.

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Inter Miami leads all of MLS with a powerhouse lineup of former FC Barcelona stars: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. City put those stars to the sword Saturday night, and played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at Chase Stadium.

Coming off a midweek loss and looking for a bounce-back win, Inter Miami started those aforementioned Barca legends in a full-strength team. For St. Louis, Eduard Löwen returned to the starting lineup for the first time since March.

It was announced midweek that City midfielder Tomas Ostrak would be out for the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury in training that will require surgery. With Eduard Löwen returning to full fitness, he took over the central midfield spot Ostrak has been keeping warm for him during his absence.

City opened the scoring in the 15th minute and stunned the home crowd in Fort Lauderdale with a sensational Chris Durkin strike. A corner from Eduard Löwen was cleared only as far as Celio Pompeu on the right wing.

Durkin, who’s more known for his box-to-box capabilities as a defensive midfielder, took a calm touch on a swung cross from Pompeu. As he was falling away from goal he was able to smash a shot with his right foot from outside the box that flew into the Inter Miami goal beyond a lunging Drake Callender.

If City were in dreamland early, they would be quickly shaken from that dream when winger Rasmus Alm collided with Luis Suarez in midfield, and was clearly worse for wear. Alm was holding his knee, and couldn’t continue. City head coach Bradley Carnell brought on MLS SuperDraft first round pick Hosei Kijima

Expectations would rear their ugly head in the 25th minute. Lionel Messi did what Lionel Messi does, scoring a beautiful goal created by his own skill on the ball.

Messi danced around stagnant City defenders, found Jordi Alba on the left wing, and Alba returned an inch-perfect pass to Messi at the top of the penalty box. The world’s most famous No. 10 put his laces through a shot that Roman Bürki got a finger to, but couldn’t keep out of the City goal.

He didn’t stop that one, but Roman Bürki was a big reason Lionel Messi’s men weren’t able to run away and hide. Bürki made a big save in the 34th minute when Messi took a first-time shot from the edge of the box, diving down to his right and getting a big mitt on the low drive.

Inter Miami have a tendency to give up an opening goal and progressively wake up through the course of the game. Many teams have gone up early, only to see the true skill of Messi and friends take over the game, and suddenly they’re losing or even getting blown out.

The Herons had won six games from losing positions coming into Saturday’s contest. When Lionel Messi equalized just ten minutes after City scored the opening goal, one could wonder if it would be another one of those nights, especially given the tough stretch Bradley Carnell’s team has gone through in recent times.

In the 41st minute, City’s Indiana Vassilev would pop up to haunt his former club, but it was a goal created by the midfield press. Eduard Löwen stole the ball from Miami’s Benjamin Cremaschi and tapped a pass to Kijima.

Kijima looked up to see Vassilev running through the Inter Miami back line and played a perfectly weighted pass that found Vassilev in stride at the edge of the penalty box. Vassilev put all of his might behind his right foot and fired a cannon beyond Drake Callender to put City ahead for the second time in the first half.

That lead lasted about five minutes. Some lackluster defending saw Lionel Messi slalom through statuesque City defenders. Once again, Messi sprayed a pass out wide to Jordi Alba on the left wing, this time Alba found Luis Suarez at the far post, Suarez beat Bürki from an acute angle.

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It was a thrilling half of soccer for a neutral viewer, more agonizing for a partial one. City went into the break having just given up a goal, but had made a big statement with their first half performance.

“In the first half, I think we were a little bit unlucky not to be two, three, four goals ahead,” said Bradley Carnell. “I thought everything worked according to the match plan.”

Luis Suarez would find the back of the net once again in the 68th minute, but this time, in the wrong goal. Eduard Löwen curled in a corner kick, and in his attempt to defend Chris Durkin, the cross glanced off Suarez’s head and into the Inter Miami goal.

Chris Durkin, postgame, did say he felt he got his head on that cross and the goal should be credited to him, not that he’s hungry for more after scoring his first of the season in the first half.

In the 71st minute Roman Bürki would once again deny Inter Miami, this time it was Benjamin Cremaschi who forced the City captain into a fingertip save to keep his team in the lead.

It became increasingly clear after the third City goal that a win and three points was more than possible for the team few gave a chance heading to South Florida. City had multiple chances in the second half to extend their lead further, but couldn’t convert on numerous chances.

Inter Miami lost to Atlanta United 3-1 on Wednesday night. They have not lost back-to-back matches at home since April 2023. In the 85th minute, they tied the game for the third time in the evening.

Miami’s Julian Gressel played a pass over the City defense for Jordi Alba, who was seemingly miles beyond the City back line thanks to his well-timed run. Alba had a clean shot that Roman Bürki had little chance of stopping.

“I think as the game gets a little stretched, as the game gets a little frantic, as they get a little bit more desperate, (Miami) are able to show and flex their muscles,” Carnell analyzed. “They find gaps, find spaces, find the runners, and then it becomes tough for our group.”

The Swiss shot-stopper once again came up huge for City in the 89th minute, when Miami right back Marcelo Weigandt ghosted into the City box, with defenders more captivated by Lionel Messi on the other side of the field. Messi found Weigandt who thumped a shot that Roman Bürki parried with his outstretched right arm to keep the scoreline level.

Five minutes of stoppage time saw Miami push for a fourth, but it never came. A South Florida shootout that ended all square. The draw snaps City’s losing skid.

Something about City and 3-3 games. 3-3 in Kansas felt like a win. 3-3 in Miami, against a much, much better team, in a way felt like a loss, because the team could have held onto the lead and taken all three points back home to St. Louis. Roman Bürki expressed as much postgame.

“We must be better than that at the end (of games),” said Bürki. “We could say we scored three goals, and we had a decent performance against a good team, but if you’re scoring three goals you must manage to win the game… I think we had the chances in the first half to go into halftime with three or four goals. We're just not still at the point where we can kill a game and take their (home-field advantage) away.

“We just have to kill the game. We have to be clever. We have to score goals up front. Our strikers need to deliver, that's just what it is. And yeah, all together it was a decent performance, but like I said, unfortunate and disappointing that we didn't win.”

“A little bit upset that we couldn't walk away with three points as has been the tale of our season right now,” Bradley Carnell acknowledged postgame. “Where the game is defined by small margins. But yeah, we take this point, no one ever gave us a chance.”

It’s St. Louis City’s 15th game with at least three goals since the start of the 2023 season, the most in MLS over that time period. City is unbeaten in those 15 games, with twelve wins and three draws.

City returns home next weekend to take on the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

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