Lionel Messi scored two first half goals and assisted on another in the second to lead Inter Miami to a 4-0 dismantling of Atlanta United and advance to the knockout stage of the Leagues Cup.
After coming off the bench to score a dramatic game winner in his debut on Friday night, the World Cup champion from Argentina wasted no time in his first start with the MLS side.
The team captain received a lovely lofting pass from former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets and, after initially hitting the post, fired home his own rebound to put Miami up in the eighth minute to roars of approval from the home crowd.
Messi slotted home a second in the 22nd minute on a diving cross from teammate Robert Taylor, who notched a brace of his own on a hot night in Miami.
After scoring, Messi stopped and pointed from the field at the team co-owner David Beckham, who was watching the game. The gesture was met with a wide smile from the former Manchester United great who helped lure Messi to the MLS despite a massive counter offer from Saudi Arabia.Atlanta’s best chance at getting on the scoreboard came with a late penalty kick from Thiago Almada but Miami keeper Drake Callender read it perfectly to preserve the clean sheet.
Messi and fellow Argentinian Almada hugged when Messi was subbed out in the 78th minute and the pair exchanged jerseys after the match.
Messi came on as a substitute in Friday match against Curz Azul and his game winner on a set piece in the dying second of the contest made for a dream start in MLS for the 36-year-old, a seven-times Ballon d’Or winner who led Argentina to World Cup glory last year.
With the win Miami have now won their group in the Leagues Cup tournament, which is a World Cup-style tournament featuring all teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX.