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Lionel Messi magic: Inter Miami "motivated" by historic crowd at Gillette Stadium

April 28, 2024, by Charles Boehm | Courtesy of www.mlssoccer.com



The Inter Miami CF road show is starting to resemble a juggernaut, and Lionel Messi is at the wheel.


With two clinical goals followed by one assist from the irresistible Messi, the Herons conjured up another Saturday night spectacle, this time a 4-1 victory at a packed Gillette Stadium, putting the luckless New England Revolution to the sword before a record crowd of 65,612 whose energy lent a rare vibe to the occasion.


A Tomás Chancalay stunner in the game’s first minute gave the last-place Revs a dream start. Yet it proved just a footnote as Messi’s involvement in all four of his side’s tallies pushed his 2024 league total to 16 goal contributions in his first seven matches, the most ever by an MLS player in their first seven games of a season.


As often as the term ‘unplayable’ gets bandied about in modern soccer, it would seem to apply to Messi at present.


“I thought in the first half, after the goal, we had them locked up pretty good, where they weren't getting many chances, they weren't finding a lot of time and space to operate. Then Messi did what he does, and he found a crack,” Revs head coach Caleb Porter said afterwards.

“I still thought at 1-1 we had a great chance in the game. We started the second half pretty well. We started keeping the ball and then he found another crack. Almost the exact same play, different side. First one was our left side, second was our right side in that seam in between our center back and our outside back,” Porter added. “They were able to find two goals when we felt pretty good about the defending, and that we were limiting their effectiveness, creating clear chances. But, you know, that's Messi. He finds two goals out of nowhere and it exposes the detail in those moments from us.”


Meeting the moment


Add in Messi’s contributions in Concacaf Champions Cup, and his 2024 totals rise to 11 goals and nine assists in 10 overall matches, underlining both the extent of the GOAT’s imperious form and the reason Boston-area sports fans eagerly showed out in numbers – and at prices – exceeding those for the Revs’ NFL housemates the Patriots last autumn.


Miami’s three road wins already matches their total from last season, two of them in massive NFL venues with attendance numbers that make these games look and feel different from most others around MLS.


“People come to every stadium to see Leo, that's true, but they also want their team to win,” Herons head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino said in Spanish postgame. “We're motivated by the atmosphere we always find where we play – and this also incentivizes the opponents a lot.

“The hopes that teams and their fans have when they face Inter Miami, we've handled it well. This was a learning curve last year and now we're dealing with it well.”


IMCF remain top of the overall MLS table with the win, which takes them to 21 points from 11 matches, and notably, their extra game played is now less of a factor in that, as their points-per-game rate of 1.91 is also tops in the league.


Martino suggested the combined wear and tear of their round-the-world preseason tour and an opening phase congested by CCC participation is now finally leveling out, pointing to the barnburner 3-2 win over Sporting KC at a packed Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago as a turning point.


“We had an atypical preseason, and throughout the league and the ConcaChampions, we had some injuries. We settled in with the available players and the match with Kansas was key, because we were coming off [CCC] elimination against Monterrey and we had to show our character,” said the Argentine manager.


“Now we have won three games in a row, two on the road, and we are more solid each day. Meanwhile, we find ourselves where we are in the standings. Injured players are returning, and we hope to have a complete team by the later stages of the season.”


New England's woes


It must be noted that Messi and friends were facing a New England side well short of full strength.


A sudden outbreak of illness swept through the squad in the days prior to the match, laying low several regulars, among them two planned starters for Saturday, young winger Esmir Bajraktarevic and newly-signed goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic. Central midfielders Matt Polster – “he was in the ER from 3 am to 7 am,” noted Porter – and Mark-Anthony Kaye were also badly affected, unable to keep food down, as were defender Dave Romney and backup goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.


“It has been a tough 24 hours,” said Porter. “Six guys out with injuries, and then another five just the flu. You prep, great prep we had, matchday-1, and then last night I learned that basically, we’re four or five guys down today, two that I was planning to start.”


The Revolution are now dead-last in the league at 1W-7L-1D, their worst start in club history. Porter said he’s dividing the season into quarters in hopes of turning the page on these woeful first few months, while also making clear he sees a real need for squad reinforcements in the summer transfer window.


“Obviously, we're not performing the way we want to perform. The results aren't what we want it to be,” he said. “But I have the support of the owners and of Curt [Onalfo, the Revs’ sporting director]. We need some pieces, they know that, they’re aligned with that. There are signs that we're evolving.


"We're focused on the next, I’m calling it the quarter, right, four kind of quarters. First eight games didn't go well. We're in the next eight. We want to improve, pick up. We have targets in terms of what we want to get these next eight, so we'll continue to stay on track with that.”




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