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Lionel Messi sets up both goals as Inter Miami opens MLS season with a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake

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Inter Miami shook off a grueling preseason that produced just a single win by opening the new MLS campaign with a convincing 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in South Florida on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi set up the only goal his team would need when he sprung Miami winger Robert Taylor behind RSL’s back line. The Finnish national teamer blasted the ball through keeper Zac MacMath, who somehow was unable to make what should’ve been a relatively straightforward save:

With RSL pressing hard for the equalizer late, Diego Gómez put the match away for the Herons when he scored the second with just seven minutes of regular time remaining.

Play of the game

With the score still 1-0, Miami was tiring noticeably as the visitors poured on the pressure. But Messi saw an opening when RSL coughed the ball up near the halfway line. The Argentine superstar surged up the middle of the field, played a quick pass to former Barcelona teammate Luis Suárez. Suárez, who was making his MLS debut, immediately found Gómez to his right and the Paraguayan midfielder coolly slotted his effort into the bottom corner of the net to secure all three points.

Turning point

As much as Miami dominated the opener from the first kick of the ball, the match was still scoreless as halftime approached. Not only would it have been frustrating for the hosts to go into the locker room at halftime still scoreless, it might’ve allowed doubt to creep into their minds after struggling in a number of tuneup matches over the last month. 

Instead, they got the all-important first goal from Taylor thanks in large part to MacMath’s gaffe, a gift the Herons were more than happy to take.

Key stat

The Herons had a 60-40 possession advantage until they began to tire in the second half, and they were actually out-shot by the visitors 17-15. But the number that stands out most for RSL is zero. That’s how many shots the visitors had managed to put on target during the first 70 minutes of the match.

What’s next for Inter Miami?

It’s a quick turnaround for Messi & Co. Following Wednesday’s season-opening triumph, Tata Martino’s team will travel across the continent to Los Angeles, where they’ll face the five-time MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy on Sunday.

It’s the first time Messi will face the Galaxy. It also marks a special occasion for Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham who, much like Messi two decades later, shocked the soccer world when he left the top level of the European club game and moved to MLS. Beckham starred for the Galaxy from 2007-12, winning a pair of MLS Cups before ending his career with Paris Saint-Germain — one of Messi’s former teams — a year later.

What’s next for Real Salt Lake?

While Miami has just four days until its next match, RSL has even less rest. Pablo Mastroeni’s side next plays at St. Louis City on Saturday before heading back to Utah for its home opener on March 2 against LAFC.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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