Lionel Messi pushes Inter Miami into Leagues Cup Round of 16

Inter Miami striker Lionel Messi (10) scored twice in a 3-1 win over Orlando City in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI
1 of 5 | Inter Miami striker Lionel Messi (10) scored twice in a 3-1 win over Orlando City in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI | License Photo

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Lionel Messi was a persistent pest, needling the Orlando City defense for two goals to lead Inter Miami to a Round of 32 win in the Leagues Cup on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, nicknamed "the Flea," scored in each half of the 3-1 knockout stage triumph at DRV PNK Stadium.


Wednesday's match between the in-state rivals, which was delayed by 95 minutes because of lightning, overflowed with intensity and physicality.

"It was just like a derby game should be," Inter Miami forward Robert Taylor said. "Both teams really wanted to win the game."

The Herons will battle FC Dallas in the Round of 16 of the tournament, which features teams from MLS and Mexico's Liga MX.


Messi, midfielder Sergio Busquets and defender Jordi Alba, who debuted for Inter Miami, combatted the opposition with crisp passes, spreading out and infuriating their foes.

"They bring calmness," Taylor said of Messi, Alba and Busquets. "They make everyone else make the right decisions."

The Herons, who were winless in their last 11 MLS matches before Messi's arrival, are now on a three-game winning streak. They remain in last place in MLS, as tournament games don't count toward league standings.

Inter Miami dominated possession and irritated Orlando City with their relentless unselfish approach, tiring defenders as they created lanes in transition. Alba entered the game as a 64th minute substitute, adding to the Herons attack.

Taylor assisted the game's first goal in the 7th minute. The Inter Miami forward dribbled over the left corner to spark the play. He then chopped his boot down and chipped the ball over a crowd of defenders, finding Messi as he snuck into the lane.

Messi settled the ball with his chest, let it trickle to his boot and finished the play with a left-footed rip.

The Herons' early edge disappeared less than 10 minutes later, when midfielder Cesar Araujo netted the equalizer.


Mauricio Pereyra started that sequence with a corner kick from the left side. Fellow midfielder Ivan Angulo received the ball and dribbled toward the end line. He then fired a cross in front of the net, but the ball was deflected out into the box.

The ball bounced out to Araujo, who ripped a one-touch shot, which deflected off Inter Miami goalie Drake Callender and went into the net.

Messi drew a yellow card in the 21st minute after shoving a defender. The game remained physical throughout, with the rivals often exchanging words and shoves.

Messi nearly scored for a second time on two separate occasions in the first half. He hit the left post with a shot in the 31st minute. He also sent a deep free kick just over the cross bar in the 45th minute.

The Herons dominated possession and out-passed the Lions by nearly 250 over the first 45 minutes.

The Lions kept their aggression to start the second half, intercepting several Herons passes and turning them into attacks. That approach led to a penalty kick for Inter Miami in the 51st minute. Herons striker Josef Martinez converted that attempt with a blast into the left side of the net.


Messi went on to score his fifth goal of the tournament in the 72nd minute. Taylor set up that score when he dribbled into the left side of the box. He then sniped a cross toward the far post, threading it between defenders and finding Martinez.

The Herons striker brought the ball down with his chest, let it bounce and then tapped it in the air to Messi.

Messi used his first touch to rifle a right-footed shot inside the left post.

Inter Miami will face FC Dallas in the Round of 16 Leagues Cup match in Dallas. The Herons will face Charlotte in their next MLS match Aug. 20 at DRV PNK Stadium.

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