Lionel Messi scored a fantastic winning goal for Inter Miami with a stoppage-time free kick after coming from the substitutes’ bench at a sold-out DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday.
In the Leagues Cup, Miami defeated Cruz Azul of Mexico 2-1 on the final play, when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped up to the ball 25 yards out and used his famous left foot to score.
Miami had long designated Friday’s game for Messi to make his introduction for the MLS side following his blockbuster appearance on a free transfer. He agreed to a two-and-a-half-year deal with Inter Miami, which will pay him $50 million to $60 million per year.
Nonetheless, manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino had forewarned in the build up to the match that both Messi and new signing and former Barcelona partner Sergio Busquets probably won’t be sufficiently fit to play from the very outset after recently getting back from vacation after the end of the European club season a month ago.
Messi and Busquets came from the bench in Friday’s game together in the 54th minute to a massive ovation from the estimated crowd of 21,000.
Spain international Jordi Alba, the third former Barcelona player to join Miami this late spring, was not named in that frame of mind after his signing was affirmed exclusively on Thursday.
Messi was acquainted with his new home fans on Sunday and trained for the first time for the club on Tuesday.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham was on the field about three hours before kickoff, taking a video with his phone as he scanned the empty seats. Messi jerseys were stocked at the team store inside the stadium, and entrepreneurs were selling unofficial Messi jerseys on the road leading to the venue.
At Messi’s first match, it was a group of top celebrities: James and Serena Williams were there – like Messi in soccer, they’re in the conversation of “greatest of all time” when it comes to the NBA and tennis. Music legends Gloria and Emilio Estefan were there, as was Kim Kardashian, saying one of her sons had a particular reason why he had to attend.
“He’s so eager to see Messi,” Kardashian said.
Miami currently has the worst record in MLS, but the newly redesigned Leagues Cup, featuring every MLS and Liga MX team, offers a chance for Messi & Co. to win immediate silverware and claim one of three places available in next season’s Concacaf Champions League.
Watch Highlights of The Game: