Lionel Messi leads Inter Miami over Real Salt Lake in MLS opener

Inter Miami striker Lionel Messi logged the first assist of the MLS season on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI
1 of 5 | Inter Miami striker Lionel Messi logged the first assist of the MLS season on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI | License Photo

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Lionel Messi serenely slid a pass through a flock of foes, leading Robert Taylor into the box for the first goal of the MLS season and sparking an Inter Miami win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Herons winger Diego Gomez added a second score in the second half of the 2-0 triumph at Chase Stadium. Newcomer Luis Suarez assisted that goal.


"There is no better ambition and desire than to come to a team that won their first title just last year and try to win the MLS," Suarez, who joined the Herons in December, said on the Apple TV broadcast.

Messi captivated the crowd of more than 20,000 with several close attempts on net, daring dribbling combinations and even a chip to himself over an injured defender -- but the Herons' new-look starting lineup could not find the net through the majority of the first half.


The Herons offense mimicked stalled sedans on a stuffed street before they eventually found rhythm. Messi paced that detour by navigating for first blood in the 39th minute.

The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner hovered deep in Real Salt Lake territory, with his back to the goal to start the sequence.

Center midfielder Sergio Busquets then fired a pass to his star teammate, who received the ball and performed a rapid turn. Messi then slipped in a pass with his right boot, leading Taylor into the box. Taylor broke away from defenders and used his first touch to ground a shot toward the far post.

The attempt was just quick enough to get under Claret and Cobalt goalie Zac MacMath, who got a piece of the ball but couldn't manage to stop it from finding the net.

The Herons, who led 1-0 at the break, fended off several Claret and Cobalt attacks before they could double the lead in the 83rd minute.


Messi set that score up with a swift dribble up the middle of the field. He then slid a pass to his left, finding Suarez above the box. Suarez tapped another pass ahead to Gomez, who stopped the ball before firing a shot into the far-post netting.

The Herons, who were preseason MLS Cup favorites, are now 11-0 in games in which Messi logs a goal and/or assist. They are 12-2-1 with Messi in their lineup since he joined the team in July. Messi logged 11 goals and six assists over his 15 total appearances with the Herons, dating back to last season.

Suarez played for 89 minutes. Messi, who ripped several close chances on net, played all 90 minutes and stoppage time.

"It is the desire, the challenge that both the entire team and I have, to be able to win that title, [with] the level of the club," Suarez said of the Herons' MLS Cup aspirations. "That would be very important in the MLS."


The Herons will face the Los Angeles Galaxy at 8:30 p.m. EST Sunday in Carson, Calif. The Claret and Cobalt will face St. Louis City SC at the same time in St. Louis.

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