FORT LAUDERDALE – Lionel Messi’s impact in the United States continued to dazzle as he scored twice in Inter Miami’s impressive 4-0 victory over Atlanta United, securing his team’s place in the knockout rounds of the Leagues Cup.
Having just joined the team, the Argentine World Cup-winner made his first start for Inter Miami after already displaying his match-winning abilities in his debut game against Mexican club Cruz Azul last Friday.
He formed a fruitful partnership with Finnish winger Robert Taylor, who also contributed with two goals, making Miami’s triumph even more comprehensive.
The Leagues Cup brings together top-flight teams from both MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX, and with two wins under their belt, Miami currently leads their group.
Messi’s seamless adaptation to his new club gives them renewed hope of claiming their first-ever trophy.
Atlanta United started the match with a high defensive line to contain Messi, but this strategy backfired as Miami exploited the space behind them.
Messi opened the scoring in the eighth minute, breaking free from a well-placed ball by his former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, and slotting home the rebound after his initial shot hit the post.
In the 22nd minute, Messi doubled the lead, starting a sequence of three goals in partnership with Robert Taylor.
Atlanta’s defense struggled to cope as Messi linked up with Taylor, who set him up for a clinical finish.
Before the half-time whistle, Miami extended their lead to 3-0 when Messi provided the assist for Benjamin Cremaschi, who cleverly fed the ball to Taylor for a powerful shot from a tight angle.
In the second half, Miami caught Atlanta on the break, with Messi initiating a counter-attack and delivering the ball to Taylor, who fired a low shot into the net, hitting the inside of the far post.
The comfortable lead allowed Miami’s coach, Gerardo Martino, to rest both Messi and Busquets, and Miami goalkeeper Drew Callender ensured Atlanta’s frustration continued by saving Thiago Almada’s penalty.
Messi’s arrival has sparked a resurgence in Inter Miami, who previously endured an 11-match winless streak in the MLS.
Martino praised Messi and Busquets’ impact, saying, “Their arrival has given the players a lot of confidence… they feel more liberated to play.”
Martino, who coached both Messi and Busquets at Barcelona and the Argentine national team, noted that Messi’s recent World Cup triumph had rejuvenated him.
He added, “Leo is liberated, and we can expect more of this type of performance.”
Although Atlanta United won the MLS title in 2018 under Martino’s guidance, their current manager, Gonzalo Pineda, acknowledged their inferiority on the night, stating, “They were the better team… against players like Messi, you can’t make mistakes.”
Taylor, who benefited from Messi’s presence, expressed his delight at playing alongside the football superstar, saying, “It’s a dream come true to play with him.”
Messi’s sensational performances continue to captivate the United States and have put Inter Miami on course for potential glory in the Leagues Cup.