FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi’s goalscoring streak lives on, as does Inter Miami’s winning streak.
Messi scored in the 86th minute, his eighth goal in five matches with his new club, and Inter Miami rolled past Charlotte 4-0 in a Leagues Cup quarterfinal on Friday night.
The goal was set up by Leonardo Campana, who split two defenders with a pass from the low left of the penalty area. Messi redirected the pass by another defender into the wide-open net, then trotted toward Campana and leaped into his arms with a broad smile.
“When you have Messi, you know he just needs a chance. He just needs one second,” Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio said. “You have to be very sharp to stop him from producing the magic he’s been producing since he went to Barcelona when he was 16.”
Messi has scored in all five of his appearances with Miami. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner who led Argentina to the World Cup crown last year has yet to lose a match with Miami, walking off winners in all five matchups so far in the Leagues Cup, a 47-team event composed of clubs from MLS and Mexico’s top league.
Next up for Messi and his new club: a semifinal Tuesday at Philadelphia, which topped Queretaro 2-1.
Messi passed Minnesota’s Bongokuhle Hlongwane for the lead in Leagues Cup goals; each entered Friday with seven in four matches. Minnesota was eliminated with a 5-0 loss at Nashville.
Josef Martinez and Robert Thomas also had goals for Miami, an own goal set up by some serious Messi pressure late in the second half resulted in another score, and then Messi provided the perfect clincher in the final moments.
It was the second consecutive game and third time in four outings in which Miami scored four goals, part of the massive turnaround of team that is in last place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.
“It’s beautiful to play with each other again,” said midfielder Sergio Busquets, a former Messi teammate with Barcelona.
The team appeared to have close to just about another sellout at 22,000-seat DRV PNK Stadium, even on a night where the South Florida sports landscape was loaded. The Miami Dolphins were playing their preseason opener at home, the Miami Marlins played host to the New York Yankees, and Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was headlining a pro-am league championship game inside a packed high school gym.
But Messi-mania lived on, as would be expected. And the fans in those new pink No. 10 jerseys left happy once again, a far cry from what life was like for Inter Miami backers before the Messi era started.
Before Messi: Inter Miami had won five of 22 MLS matches this season.
With Messi: Inter Miami has won all five of its Leagues Cup matches, and now is just two wins from a trophy with a team that looks nothing like a last-place MLS club since Messi, Busquets, Jordi Alba and coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino arrived.
“This Miami team is completely transformed,” Lattanzio said.
Messi’s first good chance came 30 minutes into the match when some nifty short passes on the left side of the box led to him getting an opportunity from about 6 yards. His shot was knocked away by goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina, preserving what was then a 1-0 lead.
Another great opportunity came in the 69th minute, when Messi sent a pass to Taylor, then got it back and had open net — only to have his try from about 12 yards out in the middle of the box get deflected away.
Martinez opened the scoring for Miami on a penalty kick in the 12th minute. It went to 2-0 in the 32nd minute, when Taylor took a pass from DeAndre Yedlin near the top of the box and sent a one-timer off the hand of a sprawling Kahlina.
The own goal made it 3-0, and then Messi finished off Miami’s second 4-0 win of the tournament. Miami has never had that lopsided a win during its four seasons of MLS play.
“It’s not just Leo … we have found different ways of being able to score,” Martino said.
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