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 game on Friday night.
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 that now is whittled down to the final four.
Next up for Messi and his new club: A semifinal game on Tuesday against either Mexican club Queretaro or Philadelphia Union.
Charlotte almost found a way to keep him off the scoresheet. Almost.
Josef Martinez and Robert Taylor also had goals for Inter 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.
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 its 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.
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 out. His shot was knocked away by Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina, preserving what was then a 1-0 lead.
Little did anyone know Inter Miami already had all the offense it would need.
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.
All Messi could do was look skyward, giving a little smile.
Martinez opened the scoring for Inter Miami on a penalty kick in the 12th minute, one that came after Dixon Arroyo was taken down inside the box. That foul came shortly after Inter Miami unsuccessfully argued that Charlotte had committed a handball, which also would have led to the awarding of a penalty kick.
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. Yedlin collected a pass on the right wing, waited for Taylor — who pointed to where he wanted the ball — and sent it to that precise spot to set up the second of the night.
The own goal made it 3-0, and then Messi finished off the win.
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