Lionel Messi was made to wait but maintained his record of scoring in every game for Inter Miami as his new team cruised into the Leagues Cup semifinals with a 4-0 win over Charlotte FC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday.
Messi’s eighth goal in five games since his arrival came with just four minutes remaining and with Miami already three goals to the good to provide the perfect finale for the close to 22,000 in attendance at DRV PNK Stadium.
Miami will now travel to face last year’s Eastern Conference champions Philadelphia Union on Tuesday as they seek to continue their remarkable turnaround since welcoming the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Josef Martínez scored Miami’s opening goal in the 12th minute after being given the responsibility to take a penalty ahead of Messi for the second time in three games and once again finding the net from the spot.
Miami’s second came just past the 30-minute mark. With Messi’s run into the penalty box taking the attention of multiple Charlotte defenders, U.S. international DeAndre Yedlin found the run of a wide open Robert Taylor to sweep home a low shot from the center of the area.
Perhaps no player has flourished more since Messi’s arrival than Taylor. After scoring five goals in 52 MLS appearances pre-Messi, the Finnish midfielder has four goals in five games with the Argentine great alongside him.
The impact on the team as a whole has been similar. Previously averaging 1.2 goals per game as one of the lowest scorers in MLS, Miami has been scoring at a rate of more than three goals a game since the man with more than 800 career goals arrived on the scene.
After conceding four times in a wild round-of 16 victory at FC Dallas on Sunday, Miami’s defense also held its own back in the familiar confines of DRV PNK Stadium.
With Messi’s former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets shielding Miami’s backline, Charlotte didn’t manage a shot on target until the 55th minute. And though the visitors posed more of an attacking threat after some half-time changes, Miami was rarely troubled.
At the other end, Messi kept pulling the strings. With 12 minutes left on the clock, he released Diego Gomez with an inch-perfect pass down the left and the substitute’s cross was turned into his own net by Charlotte defender Adilson Malanda.
For those in attendance, including Argentina‘s World Cup-winning coach Lionel Scaloni, the only thing missing was a Messi goal. Not one to disappoint, Messi duly delivered it with a neat-first time finish after an assist from Leonardo Campana.
Miami, bottom of MLS’ Eastern Conference, is now just two wins away from a first trophy in the team’s short history and a 44th in the legendary career of their new No. 10.