Inter Miami: Messi goal can't save inconsistent Inter Miami vs. Atlanta...

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Published Time: 30.05.2024 - 11:04:39 Modified Time: 30.05.2024 - 11:04:39

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Sergio Busquets finds Lionel Messi, who sees an opening and nets a late goal for Inter Miami to cut Atlanta United's lead. (0:33)

The South Florida team, which scored 19 goals in five MLS games from April 14 to May 12 to propel it to the top of the table, looked lifeless. And though one loss against an Eastern Conference rival may not affect Miami in the long run, questions have rightly been raised whether its lack of consistency will haunt the side when the playoffs roll around?

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Atlanta came into the match on a 10-game winless streak and sat 12th in the Eastern Conference table. The Herons, with its star trio back and a deep bench containing Matías Rojas, Benjamin Cremaschi and Leonardo Campana, was tipped as a huge favorite. Yet two goals from Saba Lobjanidze and one from Jamal Thiare, after Messi had struck a reply, sent Miami to its third loss of the 2024 MLS season -- and the first with Messi on the roster.

"The conditions were favorable, much more for us than them," Miami coach Gerardo Martino said afterward. "It was a game of football where we had a better situation in the lead-up to the game due to the momentum we were living and our position in the table."

Indeed, the defeat marked the first time since Barcelona's 2-1 loss against Celta Vigo on May 16, 2021, that Messi has lost a match when getting on the scoresheet at club level.

But Miami has struggled offensively of late, with four goals scored in its past five games. Just days ago, it labored to a 1-0 win over D.C. United as the opponent's five-man backline muted Suárez and Messi in the final third all too easily, and it took a 94th-minute goal from Campana to seal the victory.

Consistency has also been an issue, encapsulated by the fact that Miami triumphed 3-1 over the same D.C. United at Audi Field on March 16 when goals from Campana and Suárez reflected a strong and well-connected offense. In that game, Miami recorded 17 shots and boasted 51% possession in a dominant performance.

Miami's two matches against Orlando City in 2024 have shown a similar pattern. The Herons recorded a 5-0 win on March 2, as Suárez and Messi celebrated two goals each, but two months later they couldn't break the deadlock in a poor 0-0 draw.

Lionel Messi scored, but it was the first time in three years that his club side lost when he got on the scoresheet. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Despite such inconsistent results, Miami leads the Eastern Conference table and Supporters' Shield standings with 34 points in 17 games -- the same amount it had in whole of the 2023 campaign -- and looks likely to clinch a playoff slot.