Inter Miami's Lionel Messi
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi (R) fights for the ball with Nashville's Jack Maher (L) during the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on August 30, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Lionel Messi went scoreless for the first time in an Inter Miami home match as Nashville SC escaped with a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Messi had scored 11 times in his first nine appearances for the Herons, including a goal in his MLS regular-season debut in a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night in Harrison, N.J.

But after playing to a 1-1 draw against Nashville in Tennessee in the Leagues Cup final on Aug. 19, a match Miami eventually won on penalties, the Coyotes came to Florida intent to sit deep and defend.

Inter Miami (6-14-4, 22 points) outshot Nashville 13-7 overall and 4-2 in efforts on target, but in truth they rarely seriously threatened Elliot Panicco's goal.

The setback will narrow the Herons' margin for error for making the playoffs.

They sit 10 points beneath the Eastern Conference playoff line with 10 matches remaining, including two in hand over the ninth-place Chicago Fire.

Panicco, in his first league start of the campaign, made four stops for the clean sheet. Miami's Drake Callender made two saves.

Nashville (11-9-6, 39 points) snapped a four-match losing streak in league play despite missing three key players to start the match, with reigning MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar beginning on the bench and defender Walker Zimmerman and striker Sam Surridge out injured.

But manager Gary Smith's rotated squad was especially impressive before Mukhtar and Jacob Shaffelburg came on at half for the visitors, holding the Herons to only three shots before the interval, with none of those on target.

Miami's first effort on frame finally came through Messi in the 61st minute when Panicco made a relatively routine save of his direct free kick from about 22 yards out.

Five minutes later, Shaffelburg had a wide-open look denied by Callendar on the break five minutes later, and not long after that Mukhtar had a goal correctly disallowed for being offside.

Messi had one of Miami's few quality chances deep in second-half stoppage time when he weaved into the box from the right. But Panicco again was up for the challenge, forcing the effort wide for a corner that came to nothing.