Messi, Alba dial back the clock to rescue Inter Miami


Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi fights for the ball with Galaxy's midfielder #20 Edwin Cerrillo during the MLS football match between LA Galaxy and Inter Miami FC at Dignity Health Sports Park on February 25, 2024, in Carson, California. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

The stargazers gathered hours before kickoff on opening night of the 2024 Lionel Messi roadshow. Thousands congregated outside Dignity Health Sports Park, queuing to get inside the LA Galaxy’s longtime home, perhaps earlier than ever before. They’d come, of course, to see a performance; to get a glimpse of the GOAT. And after 91 minutes of waiting, like clockwork, they saw the brilliance they’d paid for.

Messi had been stifled, smothered, neutralized for most of Sunday night. But in second-half stoppage time, with his Inter Miami team trailing 1-0, he dipped into his bottomless bag of tricks for an age-old classic.

He tapped in Jordi Alba, and together they made Catalan magic, slicing through the Galaxy defense at will.

It was a routine they’d surely rehearsed hundreds of times over their 10 years together at FC Barcelona — Messi to Alba, Alba back to Messi, back to Alba, back to Messi, and past a helpless goalkeeper, into the back of the net.

It was Messi’s first goal of the young Major League Soccer season. And it earned Miami a 1-1 draw that the Herons really didn’t deserve.

For most of 90-plus minutes under the lights in Carson, California, they’d been battered by the Galaxy, who looked like a youthful team reborn.

For most of those 90-plus minutes, until an 88th-minute red card, the hosts exposed Miami’s many frailties. The Galaxy streamed forward, again and again, into space left alarmingly open. They hit multiple posts. They missed glorious chances, including an early penalty. They created enough to score at least three, perhaps even four.

They were wasteful, until their umpteenth counterattack in the 75th minute yielded a rebound, which Marky Delgado squared to Dejan Joveljic for a tap-in.

But no matter how many frailties mount, no matter how many weaknesses make Miami vulnerable, Inter will be in every game it plays because it has the man whom the whole world wants to see. Messi lurked. With every Galaxy missed chance, his moment felt increasingly inevitable.

When he slid the ball into Jordi Alba’s path, with perfect weight, 27,000 people knew what came next.

And none of the 10 LA players still on the field could stop them.





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