Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas has one lasting memory from Lionel Messi’s debut: The image of Messi running to embrace his family after delivering the game-winning free kick and cementing a new era for the club and Major League Soccer.
“That was for the fans. This community is hungry,” Mas said.
Messi’s follow-up performance Tuesday night against Atlanta United in the Leagues Cup showed the impact that one player — the right player — can have on an entire club.
Messi scored twice and had an assist in his first start for Miami, bringing his total to three goals in two games. Inter Miami had a 3-0 lead by halftime, the first such lead in club history.
Miami went on to win 4-0. Messi exited in the 78th minute to a standing ovation, with many in the crowd wearing his No. 10 jersey.
“There’s going to be a before and after Messi in football for this country,” Mas said.
In the eighth minute, Messi took a pass from his longtime Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets, surged forward and sent a strike off the right post before tapping in his own rebound. Then, in the 22nd minute, Messi put Miami ahead 2-0 off a pass from Robert Taylor.
Messi came off the bench in the 54th minute Friday night in Miami’s first Leagues Cup match against Mexican club Cruz Azul. And he provided a moment fans had hoped for when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and World Cup champion for Argentina decided to take his talents to MLS. Messi converted the game-winning free kick in stoppage time in front of a crowd estimated at 21,000.
Deandre Yedlin had placed the skipper’s armband on Messi when he checked in on Friday, but Messi entered Tuesday’s match wearing the armband just below his right shoulder.
Midfielder Gregore had been the club’s captain before suffering a foot injury in March.
With Messi rightly commanding much of the attention from Atlanta’s defenders, opportunities opened for other Miami players. Taylor scored in the 44th minute, then made it 4-0 in the 53rd after being set up by Messi.
The former Barcelona captain had entered holding hands with the son of hip-hop artist DJ Khaled.
A fan got onto the field as Messi was exiting. The fan sprinted all the way toward Miami’s bench where Messi stood before Miami coach Tata Martino grabbed the attention of security. The fan was then escorted off the field.