Inter Miami initiated their campaign for the Major League Soccer playoffs with a victorious 2-0 triumph over the New York Red Bulls, as Lionel Messi, who had been benched by coach Gerard “Tata” Martino, made a crucial impact by scoring.
Having secured victory in the Leagues Cup and clinched a spot in the US Open Cup final during the week, Messi started the match on the bench. However, he entered the game in the 60th minute alongside his former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets.
While Messi’s involvement was limited, he made his mark during his regular season debut, netting an 89th-minute goal. The sequence leading to the goal began with Jordi Alba’s acrobatic delivery into the box, which Messi skillfully received, twisted around his marker, and then delivered a sublime outside-of-the-foot pass to Benjamin Cremaschi. The latter’s well-placed cross was tapped in by Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Since joining Inter Miami, Messi has displayed his prowess by scoring 11 goals in nine appearances across various competitions.
Noah Allen, a 19-year-old defender for Miami, lauded Messi’s contributions, expressing his admiration for both Messi’s on-field abilities and his character. Allen described Messi as an incredible person to play alongside, expressing his gratitude for the opportunity.
Coach Martino explained his decision to start Messi on the bench, emphasizing the importance of managing the player’s workload and well-being, despite the fans’ fervent desire to see him in action.
The victory elevated Inter Miami from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and brought them within 11 points of a playoff spot, with 11 games remaining in the season.
In a separate turn of events, Eastern Conference leaders Cincinnati rebounded from their loss to Miami in the US Open Cup by securing a 3-0 victory against New York City. Aaron Boupendza opened the scoring early on, and Junior Moreno extended the lead with a side-foot finish during a swift counterattack. Nick Hagglund’s header in the 59th minute sealed the win for Cincinnati, maintaining their 11-point lead over second-placed Philadelphia.
Elsewhere, Philadelphia secured a 3-1 win against D.C. United, the goals coming in the first half courtesy of Mikael Uhre, Jack McGlynn, and a penalty by Hungarian international Daniel Gazdag.
Meanwhile, the New England Revolution, positioned third in the Eastern Conference, suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of Montreal, with George Campbell netting an 86th-minute winner.
The reigning champions, Los Angeles FC, faced an unexpected 2-1 loss against Charlotte, with Ashley Westwood and Scott Arfield finding the back of the net for the North Carolina side. Westwood’s clever finish and Arfield’s 75th-minute winner overturned Mario Gonzalez’s equalizer for LAFC.
In a day of surprises in the Western Conference, leaders St. Louis City succumbed to a 2-1 defeat against Orlando City. Facundo Torres secured the win for Orlando City with a stoppage-time penalty after Anthony Markanich handled the ball in the box.
Real Salt Lake, holding the third spot in the Western Conference, also faced an upset with a 3-0 loss against Houston Dynamo.
Dallas emerged victorious in their Texas derby against Austin, securing a 1-0 win with Nkosi Tafari’s glancing header in the seventh minute of added time.
This update provides the latest developments in the world of sports, featuring notable victories, surprises, and standout performances across various matches and competitions.