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Minus Lionel Messi, Inter Miami rides Luis Suárez to win over D.C. United

Minus Lionel Messi, Inter Miami rides Luis Suárez to win over D.C. United

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

D.C. United did not have to contend with Lionel Messi on Saturday, an injury absence that figured to provide Troy Lesesne’s ambitious MLS team with a clear advantage at sold-out Audi Field.

But Inter Miami also employs Luis Suárez, Messi’s former running mate at FC Barcelona. And in a second half in which the visitors did not seem to miss their Argentine mastermind, Suárez scored twice as a substitute during a 3-1 victory that delighted hundreds of spectators donning Barcelona, Argentina and Miami Messi shirts.

Suárez, the 37-year-old Uruguayan superstar in his first Miami season, does not move as well as he once did, but he knows where to go and what to do with the ball.

He scored the go-ahead goal in the 72nd minute — 10 minutes after entering — and added a cheeky chip in the 85th to raise his totals to four goals and three assists in five regular season matches and six and five, respectively, in seven games across all competitions.

Jared Stroud scored during United’s crackling start, but missed opportunities and what Lesesne called “unforced errors” led to D.C.’s downfall after starting the season with a victory and two draws.

“Look, it doesn’t matter if Messi is not here,” Lesesne said. “This is a good side and any good side will punish you if you make mistakes and don’t punish them. I felt like we did enough in the beginning to be on top but not throughout the course of 90 minutes.”

Messi missed the match with a hamstring injury suffered Wednesday and, at the end of four matches over 10 days, Miami Coach Gerardo Martino held out two other former Barcelona stars, Suárez and left back Jordi Alba, until the second half. Among the four famous players, only midfielder Sergio Busquets started for Miami (3-1-1).

Miami was winless in its previous seven games without Messi, dating to last year.

United was the better side for most of the first half but failed to fully capitalize. In the 14th minute, a five-pass, end-to-end buildup culminated with Mateusz Klich’s biting delivery to Stroud for a 16-yard shot into the far-side netting for his first goal since joining United from St. Louis in a winter trade.

Drake Callender’s saves and D.C.’s inefficient finishing left the margin in place.

Miami drew even in the 24th minute. Alex Bono made a sensational stop on Leo Campana’s header, but from a supine position, Federico Redondo poked the ball to Campana for a 16-yard one-timer.

Bono ensured a halftime tie by making a slight kick save on Robert Taylor’s bid, which then caromed off the near post.

Suárez’s entrance prompted a roar from the Miami followers — and increased concern for United.

The match opened up — a “little too open,” defender Christopher McVey said — and led to Miami counterattacks.

“We got caught out in our press a decent amount, and that leads to a lot of transitions,” Bono said. “You can only defend somebody’s transitions so long until you get caught out on one.”

The go-ahead goal began with controversy at the other end, when Miami defender Tomás Avilés’s hand appeared to make contact with the ball in the box. Play continued. Miami countered. Campana crossed to Suárez charging down the middle for a sliding finish.

Video replay referee Mark Geiger allowed the goal to stand.

Lesesne said he did not get a good look at the potential handball. He was more concerned with United’s positioning on the opportunity.

“Really, the questions I have on the second goal we gave up are, we hitting the right spots in the box?” he said. “I don’t think we were, because if we do, then we create a more clear-cut chance.”

Suárez then sealed the victory by scooping a shot from the top of the box. Bono’s leaping touch on the ball was not enough.

Pedro Santos’s red card in the 90th minute added to United’s pain.

“I didn’t feel we really controlled the game” after intermission, striker Christian Benteke said. “We lost the game in the second half.”

Here’s what else to know about United’s defeat:

United’s supporters’ groups continued protesting the club’s preseason trip to Saudi Arabia by hanging a banner that read “Remember Khashoggi” — a reference to Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist murdered by Saudi agents in 2018.

Several groups, which typically include the loudest fans, pledged to refrain from organized chants and banging drums for the first four home matches — the number of games United played in Saudi Arabia.

Midfielder Martín Rodríguez made his first appearance since tearing an ACL in 2023 preseason. He entered in the 79th minute. …

Center back Steven Birnbaum continues to recover from preseason knee surgery and seems a few weeks from making his 2024 debut. … Defensive midfielder Russell Canouse (ankle) seemed on schedule to return this month but remains unavailable. … Ted Ku-DiPietro (knee) sat out for the second straight game.

Homegrown midfielder Jeremy Garay, 20, was loaned for the year to second-division El Paso. United reserves the right to recall him at any time. Garay spent last season with second-tier Loudoun United.

United’s group-stage matches in the Leagues Cup are set: at Atlanta on July 26 and home against Mexico’s Santos Laguna on July 31. The month-long tournament features all 47 teams from MLS and Liga MX.

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