The Philadelphia Union once again had the chance to pick up a signature win in a big game on Tuesday night. Once again, they came up short in the worst of ways en route to a disastrous 4-1 loss to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami FC.

Before getting into how the Union fell on their faces, we need to go back to the lead-up to this game. After picking up a 2-1 win in their Leagues Cup quarterfinal match against Querétaro on Friday, the Union knew they’d face Inter Miami and Lionel Messi. For a team that hadn’t gotten their flowers from the Philly media and fandom at large after winning the Supporter’s Shield in 2020 and nearly walking away with MLS Cup a season ago on the road against LAFC, the Union picked up some mainstream attention over the past few days.

Sure, a significant amount of that attention was driven by the mere mention of a man who many believe to be the GOAT in Messi. However, after seemingly turning down the chance to play a huge match at the Linc for fear of losing home-field advantage, the conversation then turned to price gouging for Messi’s first game in Chester. Once the dust had settled, the question became whether or not the Union could slow what had been an unstoppable force over their past games.

Entering Tuesday night, Lionel Messi had racked up eight goals and three assists, leading Inter Miami to a 5-0-0 record. Despite adding former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Miami still had holes in their lineup. In fact, there was an argument to be made that Philadelphia held the advantage in net and up the middle, starting with center backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes.

With that, we return to Tuesday night and the atmosphere. The lots were full of rowdy fans, multiple major tailgates, and a belief that the Union could outlast Messi’s Miami and advance to the Leagues Cup Final. Whether it was belief or sheer hope on the part of fans –some of whom spent upwards of $600 per ticket to be in attendance–was anyone’s guess.

The pregame mood in the stadium was that of excitement for those who never thought they’d see Lionel Messi play a competitive game on US soil, and anxiety for a Union team that has suffered disappointing losses in the US Open Cup, MLS Cup, and more.

Messi’s arrival for pregame warmups was with the type of wonder you’d expect from people who truly love the beautiful game:

That, however, is where the good vibes ended.

The first half of the game was all too familiar for Union fans. Jim Curtin overthought the lineup, opting to roll with five at the back, showing far too much respect to Messi and Co.:

It got worse from there as Andre Blake, who’s been arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS for the past few seasons, was caught out of position on the first two goals of the game, including this worm-burner from the left foot of Messi:

While Ray Hudson made some big bucks labeling that left foot as a cross between a sledgehammer and a rapier, that’s a goal that Blake simply can’t allow. Blake’s first half performance was not only out of character, but it came at the absolute worst time for a team that needed every save.

New fans who sought out this game and realized they’d need to pay for an Apple TV+ subscription likely missed the first two goals that came in quick succession. A backbreaking third goal just before half doomed the Union and sucked the life out of what started off as a raucous crowd.

While the second half of the game was more promising, the Union put together their fair share of misses that resembled that of Chris Wondolowski in the 2014 World Cup.

A late goal by Alejandro Bedoya was the perfect example of too little too late and Union crowd that had suffered agonizing defeats in big games returned to an all-to-familiar place.

It was a chance to perform for a new audience. To make a case to casual soccer fans. To show that losing track of Gareth Bale with minutes to go in MLS Cup was a fluke. Instead, from the coaches to the players, the Union did what they do best in big games: overthink and underperform.

The Sons of Ben, who are a perfect microcosm of fandom in Philadelphia –loud while ahead, discombobulated and largely silent when the going gets tough– rained down chants on Inter Miami players who spent too much time getting acquainted with the blades of grass at Subaru Park. Unfortunately, the chant was better served for Philadelphia on Tuesday night: Dig a hole, and fucking bury ’em.