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Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake review: Lionel Messi's team starts with a win

The new MLS season began with Inter Miami hosting Real Salt Lake and the pressure was on Lionel Messi and the rest of the home team to start the year with a win, and Miami delivered with a 2-0 victory.

Expectations are high for the Herons after they added another veteran star in Luis Suarez to their roster in the offseason. They finished 14th in the Eastern Conference last season, but they are favorites to win the MLS Cup this time around.

Read more: MLS Outright odds

Expectations high for Herons

Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami half-way through last season and one of his first actions was to help his side win the Leagues Cup.

However, the Herons continued to struggle in the MLS even after the Argentinian’s arrival. They only won four of their 12 regular-season games after Messi signed and ended up finishing 14th out of 15 teams in the East as Messi battled an injury.

Luis Suarez, who played with Miami players Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, joined in the offseason and Gerardo Martino’s men also added a number of exciting young prospects such as Tomas Aviles and Facundo Farias.

As a result expectations are high for the new campaign, with the club +275 favorites to win the MLS Cup and +125 chances to win the Eastern Conference.

Messi is +250 to be the top scorer in the MLS while teammate Luis Suarez is a +750 shot. 

Read more: 2024 MLS Top Goalscorer odds

Hosts manage to secure victory

Inter Miami and Real Salt Lake had never faced off before this season opener but it was the home team who were quick to assert their dominance.

Miami had a gruelling preseason schedule, travelling to El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Japan. There were few signs of tiredness in this clash, however, as Messi began to dominate proceedings from the off.

The Herons had worked a number of chances and forced RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath into several impressive saves before the hosts finally put the ball past him.

Robert Taylor linked up well with Messi in last year’s Leagues Cup, netting four times in seven games. The Finland international was again assisted by Messi as he broke through in the 39th minute to open the scoring with a shot that squirmed under MacMath and into the goal to give Miami a deserved lead. 

RSL fail to make chances pay

Real Salt Lake were unbeaten in their last 14 opening day matches before this game and did not go down without a fight, forcing mistakes from Inter Miami as they looked to level the score when 1-0 down.

However, errors from Sergio Busquets and Tomas Aviles went unpunished, as RSL’s forwards were either selfish and took the shot on when they should have passed or simply made the wrong decision in the final third.

Pablo Mastroeni’s men actually led the shot count, registering 17 to the home team’s 15, but when comparing their two shots on target to the Herons’ eight, it is not hard to see where the visitors went wrong.

The Claret and Cobalt were forced to open up as they chased the game and this ultimately led to their downfall, with Diego Gomez finishing an Inter Miami counter-attack in the 82nd minute after RSL lost the ball in midfield. 

That put the game out of reach for RSL and Gerardo Martino’s side really should have added more, with Suarez and Messi both being denied late on by MacMath, who had an impressive game despite his mistake for the opening goal.

Messi up to usual tricks

Messi was the star of the show for this season opener, as he has been throughout his time at Inter Miami, and he had clearly shaken off whatever injury forced him to miss a preseason game in Hong Kong.

The Argentinian was in full showboat mode at times, chipping the ball over an injured Real Salt Lake defender at one point in the second half as he produced a typically impressive performance.

A goal was all that was missing from Messi’s outing and if the World Cup winner continues to stay fit and play with such freedom, it is hard to see which MLS team will be able to get the better of the Herons over the course of the campaign.

Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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