Lionel Messi’s instant impact in the United States continued on Tuesday as he scored twice in Inter Miami’s 4-0 victory over Atlanta United, firing his team into the knockout rounds of the Leagues Cup.
The Argentine World Cup-winner was handed his first start for his new club after coming off the bench and grabbing a 94th-minute winner in Friday’s game against Mexican club Cruz Azul.
In his first game against a Major League Soccer club, Messi was simply too much for Atlanta to cope with and he struck up a fruitful understanding with Finnish winger Robert Taylor, who helped himself to Miami’s other two goals.
The Leagues Cup is a tournament which brings together all the top flight teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX and with two wins Miami top their group and with their new arrival looking settled so quickly, they will surely believe they can get their first ever trophy.
Messi wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet, putting the home side ahead in the eighth minute when he was sent free by a ball over the top from his former Barcelona team-mate Sergio Busquets.
Messi burst into the box and although his low shot struck the post, he made no mistake with the rebound, side-footing into the goal.
The seven-times Ballon d’Or winner then doubled the advantage in the 22nd minute, the first of three goals that saw him combine with Finnish winger Robert Taylor.
Messi ran at the back-pedalling Atlanta defence before switching to Taylor who slid the ball back into the path of the 36-year-old who made no mistake.
Atlanta played a high-line and asked Argentine midfielder Santiago Sosa to man-mark his compatriot, a task which proved to be impossible.
Another Busquets ball over the top found Messi but the off-side flag was raised after he shot straight at Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan.
Miami made it 3-0, a minute before the interval, when Messi fed Benjamin Cremaschi, who cleverly flicked the ball to Taylor who defied the tight angle with a fierce blast.
Eight minutes after half-time, Atlanta were caught on the break when a corner was cleared to Messi, who ran from deep in his own half before feeding Taylor to his left who drilled in a low shot off the inside ofBusquets the far post.
The margin of victory allowed Miami’s Argentine head coach Gerardo Martino to rest Busquets and Messi with the latter substituted in the 78th minute.
Messi’s Argentina team-mate Thiago Almada had a chance for a consolation for Atlanta but his penalty was well saved by Miami keeper Drew Callender.
Taylor, who exploited perfectly the space created for him by Messi, deservedly received his own ovation as he left the field.
“Every time Leo has the ball we have a few players running in behind and that creates loads of space for everyone else,” Taylor said.
“He can do everything on the ball. He can keep it in tight spaces, and he makes the right decision 100 percent of the time.
“Most of the time he’ll find one of his team-mates. He brings so much quality to the team, so much. I mean, he’s the best player in the world. This is what he does – he scores two goals, he scored last game, gets another assist. It’s a dream come true to play with him,” he said.