'Amazing' Messi stars on MLS debut as Inter Miami beat New York Red Bulls

Argentine superstar comes off the bench to score the second goal in the 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Inter Miami's second goal in the 2-0 MLS win over New York Red Bulls. Getty
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Lionel Messi continued his stunning start to life in the United States by coming off the bench to score on his Major League Soccer (MLS) debut as Inter Miami defeated New York Red Bulls 2-0 on Saturday.

After a week in which Miami won the Leagues Cup and reached the final of the US Open Cup, Messi was left on the bench by coach Gerard 'Tata' Martino but came into the game on the hour mark.

The Argentine World Cup winner had limited involvement after entering with former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets but made his mark on his regular season debut with an 89th-minute goal.

Jordi Alba acrobatically hooked the ball into the box to Messi who twisted and turned then slipped a sublime pass with the outside of his foot to Benjamin Cremaschi whose low first-time cross was tapped in by the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi has now scored 11 goals in nine appearances in all competitions since joining Inter Miami.

"He's unbelievable, every day it's something new, on and off the field," said Miami's 19-year-old defender Noah Allen. "He's an amazing person to play with and I am so blessed to play with him."

Martino had indicated that several of his players needed a break after an intense run of eight games within a month and stuck to his word with his team selection, to the disappointment of the capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena.

There were chants of "We want Messi" at regular stages throughout the game which was also shown on a giant screen in Times Square.

A makeshift Miami had taken the lead in the 37th minute when Allen played in a cross from the left and Paraguayan Diego Gomez was given time to turn and then slot home a left-foot effort.

Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender had to make a series of saves to keep his side in the lead but with Red Bull pressure mounting, Martino opted to bring on his star man and the momentum of the game shifted.

The win lifts Miami off the bottom of the Eastern Conference and reduces the gap to the last playoff sport to 11 points with 11 games remaining.

"I understand the desire of the people who want [Messi] to play, this will happen everywhere we go," Martino said. "But as the coach, I cannot be guided by those fans' desires. My job is to make sure Leo takes care of himself."

When Messi joined, Miami were on an 11-match winless run but are now unbeaten in nine games since the Argentine superstar was brought into the team.

Updated: August 27, 2023, 6:10 AM