Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake highlights: Messi doesn't score, but still shows off in win

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lionel Messi juked and faked two defenders into another direction, and nearly had the punctuation point on Inter Miami’s season-opening win.

Messi’s shot was deflected by the goalie and he turned his body toward fans in the stands, bothered he was unable to find the back of the net during his MLS season debut.

It didn’t matter. He got his work done early in the first half. He hugged Will Smith on his way to the locker room at halftime. And he maintained Inter Miami’s pace as they waited painstakingly for the game-deciding goal in the second half.

Messi assisted Inter Miami’s first goal of the night by Robert Taylor in the 39th minute, and orchestrated the second goal by Diego Gomez in the 83rd minute in a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the 2024 MLS season opener at Chase Stadium on Wednesday night.

Messi’s second season in MLS is officially underway, and the world’s best player looks to be in prime form.

He’s running hard, dribbling between defenders. He even had an instance where he dribbled over an injured player, RSL’s Andrew Brody, laying on the pitch before another defender deflected his shot attempt.

Watch: This Lionel Messi dribble over an injured player went viral on TikTok

“It’s awesome, right? Just playing him and seeing him on the field, and going against him is definitely something cool,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Diego Luna said of Messi. “But when you’re out there, he’s just another player and you’re trying to defend him the best you can and play him the best you can.”

Messi shots on target

Messi had three shots on target in the match, while his longtime Barcelona running-mate Luis Suarez had two of his own. They were unable to score.

But both had timely passes to set up Gomez’s goal, which put the match out of reach for Inter Miami.

Messi dribbled the ball from center spot to the penalty arc, where he gave it up to Suarez, who delivered the assist. And Gomez, who had five goals in seven appearances at the CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament last month, delivered.

“There are many things to improve, now we have to enjoy the victory,” said Gomez, who dedicated the goal to his mother, who was in attendance.

Messi’s first attempt was also comical, a free kick after a yellow card where defenders loaded the box and one RSL player stood directly in his path, in the corner of the net he loves to squeeze the ball into in such scenarios. It was a glimpse of how teams will defend Messi in those goal-scoring opportunities.

Still, Messi made a considered effort to get others involved, including Taylor, who benefited in the first half with a goal.

“Whenever Leo gets the ball, I’ll try to make runs for him and create space. This time, he decided to play me through, which is nice, also,” Taylor said.

As for Suarez, it appeared he was laboring at times around midfield when Inter Miami was on defense. But when possession changed and Messi was charging upfield, Suarez was still able to keep pace as best he could.

Inter Miami has hopes to win Champions Cup, Leagues Cup, U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup this season.

For now, they’ll celebrate the first win of their season.

Inter Miami’s second match is on the road against L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.

“I’m so happy because it’s the first game winning at home,” Suarez told Apple TV after the match in his debut with Inter Miami alongside old friends Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba from their Barcelona days.

“We’re friends inside the pitch and outside the pitch. We try to help the team, and want to help Inter Miami win something this year.”

LOOK: Must-see images from Lionel Messi's 2024 MLS season debut

Diego Gomez goal: Inter Miami 2, RSL 0

Lionel Messi set up the sequence. Luis Suarez delivered the assist. And Diego Gomez ended the sequence with a score in the 83rd minute.

Inter Miami takes a 2-0 lead, with Gomez, Suarez and Messi all hugging after the sequence as fireworks erupted at Chase Stadium.

Sure, Inter Miami was leading in the match already. But the time between goals and the challenges they faced before reaching the back of the net again.

Drake Callendar save: Inter Miami 1, RSL 0

Brayan Vera’s header was punched away by Inter Miami goalie Drake Callendar, following a corner kick.

It was a big-time save for Inter Miami’s goalie.

Messi tripped, but no foul: Inter Miami 1, RSL 0

Messi received a pass with a head of steam down the middle, and was tripped up by a defender.

No foul or yellow card. It was offside.

Messi passed it to Robert Taylor, who made sure to return the favor back to Messi in the sequence. Instead of taking a shot, Messi was grounded.

Messi in 60’: Inter Miami 1, Real Salt Lake 0

Messi’s shot toward the net was deflected by the face of RSL’s Brayan Vera, ending a hectic sequence where about seven Inter Miami players passed the ball following a corner kick.

The sequence ended in a offside, while Inter Miami had a case for a handball by RSL.

Still, Inter Miami is hanging onto a 1-0 lead in their season opener.

Messi pass leads to Gressel miss in 52': Inter Miami 1, Real Salt Lake 0

Leo Messi dribbled between several defenders, and ran out wide to the left side to deliver the perfect pass.

Messi turned around and delivered a floating pass to Julian Gressel, who could not finish the prime opportunity in the back of the net.

It was nearly another highlight assist from Messi.

Messi, Inter Miami start second half with poor defense

The second half is underway, and Inter Miami is lucky after a strike by Real Salt Lake. RSL's Andres Gomez stoles a ball from Messi and Sergio Busquets, and his strike missed just outside the right side of the net.

Messi also complained about some contact on the other end, but to no avail.

Two minutes later, Inter Miami had another giveaway that was deflected by Julian Gressel.

Messi dribbles over injured Real Salt Lake player: Inter Miami 1, Real Salt Lake 0

Lionel Messi just delivered one of those sequences where his excellence was awe-inspiring.

Messi dribbled the ball with a chip over the laying body of Real Salt Lake's Andrew Brody, who was down on the pitch after getting his hand stepped on inadvertently. Messi's shot was deflected by another RSL defender.

But Messi's touch with the football, and his ability to quickly maneuver in space was in prime form. He even smiled after realizing what he did. Brody eventually walked off the pitch as play continued in extra time of the first half.

Robert Taylor goal: Inter Miami 1, Real Salt Lake 0

Inter Miami has scored its first goal in 2024, and you can thank Lionel Messi for the assist.

Messi found Robert Taylor streaking toward the net, and Taylor connected hard enough to get past the goalie's stretched arms and into the left side of the net.

It's Inter Miami 1, Real Salt Lake after the goal in the 39th minute. Here's the highlight:

Messi, Alba misses in 34': Inter Miami 0, Real Salt Lake 0

Messi received a pass inside the penalty area, but it appeared he wasn't ready for the chip shot. He knocked his head back in disgust after the sequence.

Earlier in the minute, Jordi Alba missed just wide to the right after connecting with a pass from Messi's corner kick.

Lionel Messi nearly connects on free kick from 30 yards out

Pablo Ruiz was shown a yellow card for a foul on Lionel Messi in the 17th minute, setting up the best chance on goal so far. Messi's free kick from 30 yards away was on goal, but a heads-up play by Justen Glad prevented a goal.

RSL threatens in the 14th minute

Chicho Arango is an absolute bulldog in front of goal, and he nearly had a chance to break the scoreless deadlock in the 14th minute.

Inter Miami's goalkeeper Drake Callender snuffed out the threat and prevented a rare early moment of attack from RSL from turning into a shot on goal.

Inter Miami dominating possession early

RSL has been sloppy in possession to start the game, but Inter Miami has not been able to capitalize against their nervy opponents.

Inter Miami completed 62 passes (to RSL's 21) while enjoying 62% of the possession through the first 10 minutes of play.

Inter Miami's lone corner kick did not result in a legitimate shot on goal.

Messi live stream match today: Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake

MLS Season Pass on Apple TV will stream the Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake season kickoff match.

Will Smith sighting at Inter Miami-Real Salt Lake

Actor, rapper and producer Will Smith was seen on the field talking to Inter Miami co-owner (and legendary former soccer player) David Beckham.

Lionel Messi starting for Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake

Inter Miami's power quartet of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are all in the starting lineup for the season opener against Real Salt Lake. For Suarez, this is his first MLS start.

Here is the starting 11 for Real Salt Lake as it attempts to extend a 14-game unbeaten streak in MLS opening weekend games:

Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake odds

Inter Miami is the favorite to win tonight’s match with -175 moneyline odds, according to BETMGM. Real Salt Lake is a +400 underdog, while a tie is +340.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez are expected to start for Inter Miami

Lionel Messi (adductor) and Luis Suarez (knee), who were both hampered by injury in Hong Kong earlier this month, are healthy and fit to play the full 90 minutes if necessary, Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said Tuesday.

“They’re playing and they’re ready to play,” Martino said during a news conference. “If they’re required to play 90 minutes, we’re going to look at it always depending on the need of the team.”

Big day for Apple TV as MLS begins 2024 season

Lionel Messi fans can find their Messi fix on Apple TV+ and Apple Music.

The documentary “Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend” debuted late Tuesday on Apple TV+ in time for the start of the MLS season.

Messi and Apple Music also released a music playlist Tuesday, titled “Messi: The Warm-Up.”

MLS Season Pass on Apple TV will also broadcast every MLS game this season.

Apple also debuted its new Apple Sports App on Wednesday.

Messi playlist on Apple Music

"Messi: The Warm-Up" was unveiled on Apple Music with the favorite pre-match songs of the soccer G.O.A.T. The playlist included artists such as Bad Bunny, Peso Pluma, Rihanna and Grupo Frontera.

Curb your Messi Mania expectations in 2024

Major League Soccer is having its moment again in the United States, and you can thank Lionel Messi for that. This will be Messi’s first full season with the team after joining last summer, and captivating fans by leading the club to a Leagues Cup title a month after his arrival. The expectations are even higher in 2024.

But fans need to temper their expectations of how much they'll see Messi play — if they see him at all — with a grueling schedule ahead for the 36-year-old star.

Lionel Messi’s Miami will open season with replacement officials

Major League Soccer locked out referees after its union rejected a tentative contract, putting Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami on track to open the season with replacement officials.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association said Saturday that 95.8% voted against a tentative agreement with the Professional Referee Organization, which supplies match officials to MLS, the NWSL and some lower-tier leagues.

MLS used replacement officials for the first two weeks of its 2014 season before reaching a five-year contract after the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service entered talks.

Lionel Messi fan creates 'What The Messi' sneakers

Andrés Salerno never thought his Lionel Messi customized sneakers would go viral. And he never thought he would get the chance to make a pair, and give them directly to his soccer idol. What started as a passion project and turned into a viral moment led to an opportunity of a lifetime for Salerno, who was born in Buenos Aires.

Lionel Messi clears air on Hong Kong absence after false reports

Lionel Messi posted a video Monday on one of the largest social media platforms in China, to dispel “false stories” he did not play in Hong Kong earlier this month due to “political reasons and many other reasons that are totally untrue.”

Messi, the Inter Miami star, reaffirmed his reasoning to not play in Inter Miami’s sold-out preseason friendly game against a group of Hong Kong all-stars in Hong Kong Stadium on Feb. 4 due to an adductor injury.

Messi, Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham and the team were serenaded with boos by fans, one day after Messi lightly participated in a training session at the venue.

MLS Cup 2024 odds: Inter Miami is preseason favorite

Inter Miami was not exactly an elite MLS team in 2023. In fact, they were outside the playoff bubble for most of the season. However, in 2024, they are the favorites to win the MLS Cup.

Even if Lionel Messi remains healthy, Miami won't just waltz into MLS Cup. They'll have to contend with a myriad of great teams such as last year's winners, Columbus Crew SC, and last year's runner-up, Los Angeles FC.

Here are the 2024 MLS Cup favorites, courtesy of BetMGM:

  • Inter Miami (+250)

  • Los Angeles FC (+800)

  • Columbus Crew (+900)

  • FC Cincinnati (+1200)

  • Philadelphia Union (+1400)

  • New York Red Bulls (+1600)

  • Seattle Sounders (+1600)

  • Orlando City SC (+2000)

  • Atlanta United (+2200)

10 biggest questions for 2024 MLS season

Lionel Messi Mania will be far from the only intriguing story to follow in MLS this season. From replacement referees to the prospects of some USMNT hopefuls to the Columbus Crew's repeat chances, there will be plenty to follow in 2024.

Could Lionel Messi play in 2024 Paris Olympics? 

Argentina has qualified for men's football at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. And, with that, there will be questions about whether Lionel Messi will want to try to add another Olympic gold medal to his extensive collection of awards.

"The door is open for a player like him to join us," said Argentina coach Javier Mascherano, a close friend of Messi and title-winning teammate at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "Then it depends on him and his commitments."

Mascherano also was teammates with Messi when Argentina won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Group stage play for men's soccer at the 2024 Olympics starts on Wednesday, July 24. The gold-medal match will be held Friday, July 9.

That schedule would mean Messi might not miss any MLS games. However, he would miss significant time with Inter Miami as it attempts to defend its Leagues Cup title.

Inter Miami's upcoming schedule 

(All games available to stream on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.)

  • Feb. 21, vs. Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m. ET

  • Feb. 25, at Los Angeles Galaxy, 8:30 p.m. ET

  • March 2, vs. Orlando City, 4:30 p.m. ET (FOX)

  • March 7, at Nashville SC/Moca winner, 9 p.m. ET (Concacaf Champions League)

  • March 10, vs. CF Montréal, 5 p.m. ET

  • March 13, vs. Nashville SC/Moca winner, 8:15 p.m. ET (Concacaf Champions League)

  • March 16, at D.C. United, 2 p.m. ET

  • March 23, at New York Red Bulls, 2 p.m. ET

  • March 30, vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET

  • April 6, vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m. ET

  • April 13, at Sporting Kansas City, 8:30 p.m. ET

  • April 20, vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m. ET

  • April 27, at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m. ET

Inter Miami's complete 2024 schedule

Inter Miami in Concacaf Champions Cup 

For the first time in the club's short history, Inter Miami CF will be competing in the Concacaf Champions Cup.

The Concacaf Champions Cup — formerly known as the Concacaf Champions League — is the annual continental competition among clubs from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

The winner of the Concacaf Champions Cup will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup. The expanded, 32-team 2025 FIFA Club World Cup will take place in the U.S. from June 15-July 13, 2025. One MLS team — the Seattle Sounders — has qualified for the tournament by virtue of its 2022 Concacaf Champions League win.

This year's competition started on Feb. 6. The final will take place on June 2.

Inter Miami will enter the competition during the Round of 16, with its first game on March 7. It will play the winner of the Round 1 matchup between Nashville SC and Moca FC, a team from the Dominican Republic.

How MLS teams qualified for 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup:

MLS new kits for 2024 

Every team in the league will be sporting at least one new kit for the new campaign. Take a look at the new jerseys for the 2024 season.

MLS 2024 season key dates 

  • Feb. 21: Season opener, Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake

  • Feb. 24-25: MLS is Back weekend

  • May 11-18: Rivalry week

  • July 24: MLS All-Star Game, in Columbus, Ohio

  • July 26-Aug. 25: Leagues Cup

  • Oct. 19: Final day of regular season (MLS Decision Day)

  • Dec. 7: MLS Cup

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Messi, Inter Miami start MLS season with victory over Real Salt Lake