EletiofeMessi and Inter Miami begin romp through MLS with...

Messi and Inter Miami begin romp through MLS with a win — and an absurd highlight

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Henry Bushnell

Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi hits the ball during the MLS football match between Real Salt Lake and Inter Miami CF at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, February 21, 2024. (Photo by Chandan Khanna / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Lionel Messi didn’t score, but ran the show for Inter Miami in their 2024 MLS opener. (Photo by Chandan Khanna / AFP)

Lionel Messi is 36 years old and by now, you’d think, he has done everything there is to do on a soccer pitch. Hundreds of stupefying goals. Impossibly mazy runs. Alien assists. But Messi, an unrivaled sporting magician, has never stopped inventing magic tricks. And on Wednesday night, in his 2024 MLS opener, he pulled out another stunner.

It wasn’t a goal. It wasn’t even an assist — though he had one of those in a 2-0 Inter Miami win. It was disrespect of the highest order. In the 44th minute of the season’s first game, Messi cut inside on his left foot … and spotted a Real Salt Lake player prone on the ground, injured.

So he dinked the ball over Andrew Brody‘s writhing body, right over his torso, through the window between Brody’s head and thigh. He raced around Brody, without breaking stride, onto his own perfectly-weighted touch.

His shot was blocked. Jaws nonetheless dropped at his rudeness and brilliance.

For 90 minutes, he and Inter Miami also played some pretty good soccer. At times, they were dominant. At times, they were tidy. At times, they were wasteful. At times, they were dynamic.

Their legs seemed to tire in the second half, perhaps a product of their ridiculous preseason globetrotting. But even then, Messi and his friends occasionally picked their way through RSL, a mid-table Western Conference club, with ease. Their second goal — Messi to Luis Suarez to Diego Gómez — was emblematic.

Their first goal had been a goalkeeping mistake, a non-highlight — but a Messi assist as well. The GOAT snuck in between and behind two RSL midfielders. Sergio Busquets split them with a classic Sergio Busquets pass. Messi took the ball on the half-turn, and released Robert Taylor, who finished underneath Zac MacMath.

MacMath was at fault. So it was a bit fluky. But both goals, and the win, were beyond deserved.

Miami looked very much like the team everyone expects it to be — imperfect, but excellent. Messi and sporting director Chris Henderson have assembled the best roster in MLS history. They were the clearest MLS preseason favorite (+200) in at least a decade, and perhaps ever. They will likely cruise through portions of the regular season, just like an NBA superteam would; so they might not win the Supporters’ Shield. But their quality is unmatched, and perfect for the playoffs.

It was on display Wednesday night, as spotlights returned to Fort Lauderdale. Suarez was introduced to the crowd, as fireworks rose. Will Smith was in attendance. Messi was smiling, as he shared a maté with Suarez, then a laugh with Jordi Alba, and later a hug with celebs.

And then he dazzled, like he seemingly always does.

In Game 1 of potentially 60, he delivered.

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