Inter Miami's 2-0 win at New York Red Bulls on Saturday lacked the drama of recent matches, which was quite nice, really.
New coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino gave six regular starters some much needed rest after a grueling Leagues Cup run and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal. Noah Allen, Tomas Aviles, David Ruiz, Facundo Farias, Diego Gomez and Leo Campana were in the first 11. Sergio Busquets, Benjamin Cremaschi, Sergiy Kryvtsov, Josef Martinez, DeAndre Yedlin...and, oh, yeah, Lionel Messi -- started on the bench.
While that lineup likely disappointed a sell-out crowd, it was a relief for most Inter Miami fans. The Herons had played eight matches in 34 days. The Red Bulls' match was the first of four critical MLS matches -- every remaining league match is critical to the Herons' playoff hopes -- over 15 days. Clearly, Martino had to find a way to rest his key players.
Of course, none is more key than Messi who, along with Busquets, had played every minute of the past seven matches. So it was more surprising that the former Barcelona teammates, both in their mid-30s (60ish in soccer years), entered the match in the 60th minute. Messi gave fans a magisterial moment worthy of their inflated price of admission.
In the 89th minute, the World Cup hero started a scintillating give-and-go with rising star Benjamin Cremaschi, dribbling right through the box into a crowd of defenders and somehow snaking a pass off the outside of his left foot to the young midfielder. As Benja sent a cross at pace across the mouth of goal, Messi darted away from his defenders and poked the ball into the net.
The goal gave Inter Miami a 2-0 lead (summer transfer acquisition Diego Gomez, a Paraguayan national team midfielder, scored his first goal for La Rosanegra on a delicious feed from homegrown defender Noah Allen in the 37th minute.)
Sorry, Matt. I'm trying to cut down on my rambling introductions, but I hope this explains my top pick for this almost comfortable win. Here we go: