Lobjanidze, Atlanta United end Inter Miami's record unbeaten streak despite Messi return

Lionel Messi scored Inter Miami's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Atlanta United on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Photo by Christobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
Lionel Messi scored Inter Miami's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Atlanta United on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Photo by Christobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., May 29 (UPI) -- Georgian Saba Lobjanidze netted world-class goals with each foot in each half to lead Atlanta United to their first win in 10 games, while ending Inter Miami's 10-match unbeaten streak Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Lobjanidze scored in the 44th and 59th minutes of the 3-1 triumph Wednesday at Chase Stadium. Lionel Messi, who missed the Herons' last game because of rest, returned to the starting lineup and scored his 11th goal of the season.


Herons players appeared to be playing in waterlogged cleats and sweat-weighted jerseys as they battled South Florida humidity amid a heat advisory. Disjointed attacks fizzled throughout their loss, while the visitors shared the ball with ease.

"The truth is, evidently we were missing a gear," Herons manager Tata Martino told reporters at his post-match news conference.


The Five Stripes held the Herons, who lead the MLS in goals, to just one shot -- a Messi header -- through the first 18 minutes. They outshot their favored foes 26-12 over 90 minutes.

Lobjanidze broke the 0-0 deadlock with his 44th minute screamer. The striker picked up possession near midfield and carried his dribble into space while eying the Herons net. He then shifted his hips and tapped the ball right before launching his 20-yard missile past Herons goalie Drake Callender and into the upper-left corner of the net.

The Five Stripes carried the 1-0 lead into halftime.

Lobjanidze scored a second sensational goal about 15 minutes into the second half. Right wing Brooks Lennon assisted that 59th minute score. The midfielder exchanged a pass with Lobjanidze on the right flank, deep in Herons territory.

Lobjanidze then dribbled forward, cutting between the Herons' final line of defense. He finished the play with a left-footed curler just inside the left post for a 2-0 lead.

Messi and the Herons continued to struggle with ugly attacks throughout the second half, but the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner managed to cut into the deficit when he scored in the 62nd minute.


Midfielder Sergio Busquets received the ball above the United box during that play. He then found Messi to his right. The Herons star dribbled left before lacing a grounder into the far-post netting.

The goal appeared to enliven the Herons' vertical game, but United answered by stuffing their box with blue-shirted defenders. They then added an insurance goal about 10 minutes later, with Argentine Thiago Almada creating with his dribbling skills, leading to a score from Senegalese striker Jamal Thiare.

Almada created space with sharp touches above the box to set up that score. He then slipped a pass left to midfielder Caleb Wiley, who crossed a pass across the face of the goal.

Thiare came crashing into the area, tapping in a shot past Callender for a two-goal edge.

The Herons (10-3-4) still own the best record in MLS. The Five Stripes improved to 4-7-4 with their first road win of the season.

The Herons will host St. Louis City SC at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. Messi also is set to play for Argentina when they face Ecuador on June 9 in Chicago.

The Herons are scheduled to battle the Philadelphia Union on June 15 in Philadelphia. United will host Charlotte FC at 4:45 p.m. Sunday in Atlanta.


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