Messi nets two goals, assist in first Miami start

Lionel Messi scored two goals and added an assist in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United as he and Sergio Busquets were in Inter Miami CF‘s starting lineup Tuesday night at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the first time since joining the MLS side.

It didn’t take long for the former Barcelona teammates to make an impact, with Busquets lofting a perfect ball over Atlanta’s defense to Messi, who missed his first attempt but put back the rebound to give Miami a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute.

Messi added another goal on a counterattack in the 22nd minute to double the margin with an assist from Robert Taylor, who scored Miami’s third to give the team a 3-0 advantage at halftime of the Leagues Cup match.

Taylor scored the final goal for Miami after the break with an assist from Messi, who was substituted in the 78th minute to a rousing ovation from the home crowd. Busquets left the game six minutes earlier and was replaced by Victor Ulloa.

“It was a good performance and I’m pleased we were able to make our fans happy. A very good game and we took another step in the right direction,” Miami manager Gerardo Martino said.

Miami swept its group and moved on to the round of 32 in the Leagues Cup, in which it will host an opponent to be determined.

Atlanta became the 100th club that Messi has scored against.

Busquets and Messi spent 13 years playing together in Barca’s first team before the Argentine moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, and they have remained close friends since their trophy-laden run at Camp Nou.

“So many years playing together, so it’s very easy to play with him,” Busquets said. “I’m so happy to be by his side.”

Messi and Busquets came on as substitutes in their debuts in a dramatic win over Cruz Azul on Friday that saw Messi win the game on the final kick.

Martino managed Messi and Busquets for a season at Barcelona and said after the match he wasn’t surprised to see them connect for the opening goal.

“These two players are so good at what they do, they create space,” Martino said.

“Since those two have gotten here, the spirit has changed,” Miami right-back DeAndre Yedlin said. “Obviously, guys are really excited. But I think just their presence gives everybody more confidence. And I think also the teams that we’re playing against now have a bit of fear in their eyes. When those two are on the field, you know you’re in for a tough game.”

The match was also Martino’s first against his former club, which he led to the MLS Cup title in 2018. Martino, who was named Miami’s coach on June 28, confirmed Monday that Messi would be the team’s captain against Atlanta and moving forward.

“I think the fans respond according to what they see and what the team transmits to them. Many come to see Lionel. Celebrities and regular fans. He stands out but he can also spread that support from the fans to the rest of the team,” Martino said.

His thoughts on fans leaving in droves after Messi was substituted: “I didn’t really notice. The type of player he is, Messi is a global star, some fans might only be here to see him, but he would prefer if the fans would stay until the end to applaud the team, but I can also understand it.”

On Friday, Messi produced a trademark moment of magic to give Miami a 2-1 win, curling a free kick from just outside the penalty area into the top corner to put a bow on the storybook saga that saw him ultimately sign with co-owner David Beckham’s side in MLS.

Miami and Atlanta are currently playing in the inaugural Leagues Cup competition — a World Cup-style tournament between MLS and Liga MX sides. Messi could make his official debut in an MLS game at home against Charlotte on Aug. 20.

One player who will have to wait for his debut is another former Barcelona player, Jordi Alba, who signed with Miami on July 20, but he was not included in Miami’s squad list for the game against Atlanta.

Information from ESPN contributor Ross Devonport and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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