Lionel Messi comes off bench to score as Inter Miami win at Red Bulls
NEW YORK – Lionel Messi had to wait to make his Major League Soccer (MLS) debut on Saturday but when he did, he left his teammates and fans in awe yet again.
The Argentinian superstar came off the bench on the hour mark and scored as Inter Miami began their push for the MLS play-offs with a 2-0 win over New York Red Bulls.
After a week in which Miami won the Leagues Cup and reached the final of the US Open Cup, the 36-year-old was left out of the starting line-up by coach Gerardo Martino in order to give him a bit of rest.
The forward had limited involvement after entering with former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets, but made his mark on his regular-season debut with an 89th-minute goal.
Jordi Alba acrobatically hooked the ball into the box to Messi, who twisted and turned before slipping a sublime pass with the outside of his foot to Benjamin Cremaschi. The midfielder’s low first-time cross was then tapped in by the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Messi has now scored 11 goals in nine appearances in all competitions since joining Miami.
“He’s unbelievable, every day it’s something new, on and off the field. He’s an amazing person to play with and I am so blessed to play with him,” said Miami’s 19-year-old defender Noah Allen.
Martino had indicated that several of his players needed a break after an intense run of eight games within a month and stuck to his word with his team selection, to the disappointment of the capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena.
There were chants of “We want Messi” at regular stages throughout the game which was also shown on a giant screen in Times Square.
A makeshift Miami had taken the lead in the 37th minute when Allen played in a cross from the left and Paraguayan Diego Gomez was given time to turn and then slot home a left-footed effort.
Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender had to make a series of saves to keep his side in the lead but, with Red Bulls pressure mounting, Martino opted to bring on his star man and the momentum of the game inevitably shifted.
The win lifts Miami off the bottom of the Eastern Conference and reduces the gap to the last play-off spot to 11 points with 11 games remaining.
Martino defended his decision to start Messi on the bench despite the hopes of the crowd.
“I understand the desire of the people who want him to play, this will happen everywhere we go. But as the coach, I cannot be guided by those fans’ desires. My job is to make sure Leo takes care of himself,” he said. - AFP