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Lionel Messi comes off the bench, scores another highlight goal in first regular-season win with Inter Miami

Anywhere, anytime, Inter Miami can’t lose.

Even with Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets not starting Saturday night against the New York Red Bulls, it didn’t end up being a massive blow, as Inter Miami —without four other regular starters — played a smooth, comfortable match to a 2-0 win. It’s Inter Miami’s first regular-season win since May 15, ending the club’s winless streak at 11 games.

Fans chanted “We want Messi!” numerous times throughout the night as he began the match on the bench for the first time since his debut against Cruz Azul. Their wishes were finally granted in the 60th minute when he was inserted into the game, and he added a sweet treat at the end with his first regular-season goal to seal the victory.

Inter Miami had played well up until that point though, leading 1-0 thanks to midfielder Diego Gomez’s first goal with the club. It was overall a relaxing night, with New York failing to generate a consistent attack.

Messi has now scored 11 goals in his first nine games with Inter Miami.

Miami stayed in its 5-3-2 lineup, but did so with many different faces. Facundo Farias made his first Inter Miami start at forward, while regular starters Josef Martinez, DeAndre Yedlin, Sergii Kryvtsov and Benjamin Cremaschi all did not start.

Left-back Jordi Alba was the only one of the superstar trio to start. He played the entire match.

Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender made four saves for the clean sheet. He wore the captain’s armband with Messi and Yedlin on the bench.

The first 15 minutes were rather uneventful. Inter Miami controlled lots of possession and didn’t look shaken despite the lineup changes.

That was until the 20th minute when defender Tomas Aviles was whistled for a rough challenge at the top of Inter Miami’s penalty area. New York’s John Tolkin attempted a shot, but Miami’s defending wall ate it.

Inter Miami’s first major threat came in the 30th minute when Gomez was fouled in the attacking corner. Defender Noah Allen serviced a low cross toward net and it bounced around until Farias got a foot on it, but sent the shot wide.

The Red Bulls then created one of the best scoring chances of the half, but Inter Miami escaped with Omir Fernandez’s point-blank shot flying wide of the net.

Two minutes later, Inter Miami opened the scoring.

Miami won another free kick from outside New York’s box, but Alba’s kick was punched away by goalkeeper Carlos Coronel. Forward Robert Taylor won the ball at the top of the box, passed it to his left to Allen, who played the ball back into the box. Gomez was unmarked near the penalty spot, turned and fired a shot into the bottom right corner of the net.

The Red Bulls appeared to win a penalty kick shortly before halftime when midfielder David Ruiz was whistled for a handball. However, video review quickly reversed the call when it was determined the ball hit Ruiz’s shoulder rather than his hand.

Callender made his first big save of the night in the 50th minute when a header was put on frame, but he jumped just high enough to deflect the ball over the net with his fist. He then made another massive stop minutes later, prompting Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino to make his first substitutions.

It was a triple-sub, consisting of Messi, Busquets and Yedlin in the 60th minute. The three of them replaced forward Leonardo Campana, Ruiz and Taylor.

From there on, it was showtime.

There were plenty of gasps from the crowd whenever Messi touched the ball. But even so, the remainder of the match didn’t have much action until Messi delivered a jaw-dropping goal in the 89th minute.

Just seconds after having a shot blocked on a free kick, Messi controlled the ball at the top of New York’s box and played it out wide for Cremaschi. Messi bolted toward the net, Cremaschi played him back and Messi tapped the pass into a wide open net.

Inter Miami defended well for the entirety of the night, forcing multiple errant passes and preventing many dangerous threats.

The win means Inter Miami (6-14-3) are no longer in last place in the Eastern Conference, jumping ahead of Toronto FC in the table.

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