Lionel Messi made it five goals in three appearances for Inter Miami as he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Orlando City in the Leagues Cup round-of-32 on Wednesday.
Messi scored twice from close range to maintain his 100 per cent winning record with Miami, who were winless in 11 league games before his arrival.
Messi will now head on the road with Miami for the first time with Sunday’s match with FC Dallas in Texas offering a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament for top flight teams from Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX.
Wednesday’s Florida derby was not a game which will be featured in the Messi highlight videos but despite being frustrated by tight-marking for most of the game, the seven-time Ballon D’Or winner emerged the decisive figure once again.
A thunderstorm led to a 95-minute delay to the kick-off but when the game began, Miami picked up where they left off in their 4-0 win over Atlanta United last week – attacking with intent.
Robert Taylor, the Finnish winger, cut in from the left and chipped a perfect ball into the path of the on-running Messi who brought the ball down with his chest and volleyed home from six yards out.
But Orlando responded strongly and they drew level ten minutes later when a low shot from Ivan Angulo was pushed out by Miami keeper Drake Callender and Uruguayan Cesar Araujo pounced on the edge of the box to drive a low shot into the corner.
Orlando were increasingly effective in closing down Messi and the Argentine showed the first signs of frustration when he picked up a yellow card for a foul on Wilder Cartagena.
Orlando coach Oscar Pareja had clearly given his team instructions to sacrifice possession to Miami to ensure they had enough players to crowd out and neutralise Messi and Busquets, and the approach was working.
Openings were limited for Messi and when he did get some space near the goal in the 32nd minute, after good work from DeAndre Yedlin, he squeezed his left-foot shot wide.
The Argentine had an opportunity with a free-kick from within his range, just before the break but his effort from over 25 yards out was comfortably tipped over by keeper Pedro Gallese.
Messi looked unhappy as he left the field at the break, perhaps by the physical nature of some of the marking he had received as much as the lack of space he had found in the game.
But Miami found a way to restore their lead without the involvement of their star man — 18-year-old Benjamin Cremaschi slipped a pass into the box to Martinez who feeling a slight tug from Antonio Carlos went down and won a penalty.
Orlando were unhappy with the decision but their protests were to no avail and Martinez, after a stutter and a shuffle, fired home.
Miami made sure of the win and progression to the last 16 when Taylor broke down the left and picked out Martinez at the back of the box who chested the ball and found Messi with a clever chip which the Argentine gleefully tucked away.
Another former Barcelona star Jordi Alba made his debut for Miami, coming on as a 64th minute substitute and although Araujo had an effort disallowed in stoppage time, there was little trouble in the latter stages for Messi’s team.
Miami’s right-back DeAndre Yedlin suggested that Orlando’s approach had come from fear while Miami continued to play with belief.
“He just gives everyone around him confidence. You can give him balls in difficult situations and know he’s going to make something out of it.
“The flipside is that for the teams we’re playing against, it puts a bit of fear in their eyes. They’re dropping back on their heels a bit and that gives us more space to play,” he said.
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