Effort Unrewarded: Lionel Messi Scores Stunning Goal to Lift Inter Miami’s Spirits but Fails to Secure Victory Against Atlanta United

Lionel Messi returned to action, rested and engaged. But most of his Inter Miami teammates felt the ill-effects of the longest road trip in Major League Soccer on Wednesday night.

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Messi scored in the 62nd minute to respond to a 2-0 deficit, but Inter Miami fell 3-1 to Atlanta United at Chase Stadium—four days after the club without Messi, Luis Suarezand Sergio Busquets won 2-1 at Vancouver last Saturday.

Saba Lobjanidze scored in the 44th and 59th minutes for a brace, while Jamal Thiaré finished a sliding goal in the 73rd minute to help Atlanta win its fifth match of the season and hand Inter Miami its fourth loss of the season. Inter Miami’s streak of unbeaten matches also ended at 10.

The good news for Inter Miami: They retain first place in the MLS Eastern Conference with FC Cincinnati, one point behind in the standings, losing 2-0 at home to Nashville.

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Messi, Suarezand Busquets returned to action for the first time since May 18, given 10 days between matches to rest and recuperate, but mostly avoid travel to and from South Florida to Vancouver last weekend with two more matches in a week’s span.

Inter Miami plays again on Saturday night against St. Louis City, which ranks 11th of 14 teams in the MLS Western Conference. But it’s not yet definitive whether Messi, the 2022 World Cup champion who will captain Argentina in the Copa America next month, will play on Saturday.

Messi could use the work to maintain his form before the Copa America, which could be the final major tournament he’ll play for Argentina in his legendary career. He turns 37 on June 24.

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Messi appeared healthy as a lingering left leg injury, a blow he took at Montreal on May 11, did not affect him against Atlanta.

Messi nearly scored on a header in the opening minutes, but his dive toward the net ended with the ball sailing over it.

Messi, Suarezand Jordi Alba forced the issue offensively in the first half, but they were unable to find holes in Atlanta’s steadfast defense.

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As the first half neared its end, Inter Miami’s fatigue from travel and nighttime humidity showed as Lobjanidze scored before halftime.

While Messi’s goal re-ignited Inter Miami and its home crowd, the goal by Thiaré proved to be the dagger.

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