Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake score: Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez assists lead to season-opening MLS win

It was far from perfect but Inter Miami started the season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake behind goals from Robert Taylor and Diego Gomez. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez grabbed the assists during the match but there is room for improvement as it took a mistake from Zack MacMath for the first goal to go in but the second was a beautiful build-up play of threaded passes.

Real Salt Lake came prepared as shown by their creative set play defense on Messi leading to a block in the box by Justen Glad to stop Miami from going ahead 16 minutes in but they were too conservative in the first half of play. Giveaways from the Miami midfield led to missed chances in this game but against other teams in the league, Miami would've conceded multiple goals which will concern Tata Martino. The Herons struggled with pace and will have a quick turnaround playing the LA Galaxy on Sunday after Messi and Suarez completed 90 minutes of play.

For Salt Lake, it feels like an opportunity missed. They hung with Miami for most of the match but when it mattered, they weren't good enough. There are moral victories to take from that but those can only get you so far as the next time that Cristian Arango gets five chances in a match, one needs to go in the back of the net for them to take something from it.

With an xG of 1.75 to 0.77, Miami deserved to win this game but Messi and Suarez combined for 1.24 of that xG despite not scoring a goal between them. The duo took six shots but with most coming from outside the box, MacMath was well-equipped to stop them. Real Salt Lake sitting so deep in the first half meant that Miami weren't able to get in behind and Julian Gressel struggled to help unlock things from deep as the injured Benjamin Cremaschi was missed. This will improve as Miami gets further away from the preseason but Martino may have his team doing passing drills in the lead-up to facing the Galaxy.

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Tomas Aviles wasn't at his best but with five interceptions, his defensive growth is showing as Gressel's two errors leading to a shot in midfield gave the Miami defense more work to do than expected. All things considered, starting the season with a victory and a shutout is only a good thing but expectations are sky high for Miami and they'll have to blow teams off the pitch to meet them.

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Three points to the Herons

They were wobbly but they got the job done as Diego Gomez clinched the match as Messi and Suarez combined to set up the Paraguayan. Miami had too many giveaways during the match but Real Salt Lake couldn't make them pay so the Herons left Chase Field with the victory. There will need to be changes to the strategy before facing the LA Galaxy on Sunday as they will be a different beast.

February 22, 2024, 3:12 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 10:12 pm EST
 
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That's likely the clincher

Suarez may have been brought for his goals but it's slipping in Diego Gomez that will seal a nervy game for Maimi. Started by Messi from deep, the attackers were in a great position to turn it into a goal and double the lead.

February 22, 2024, 2:56 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:56 pm EST
 
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Miami is giving away chances

The passing has been sloppy for Miami giving RSL plenty of chances but they haven't been able to make them count. Now the Herons are binging on fresh legs in the form of Ruiz, Mota, and Aviles who will replace Taylor, Gressel, and Aviles.

February 22, 2024, 2:50 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:50 pm EST
 
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Changes for Real Salt Lake

Julio and Barajas enter the match and it's an MLS debut for the 17-year-old Barajas who spent last season with the Charleston Battery in the USL Championship.

February 22, 2024, 2:38 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:38 pm EST
 
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What an interchange

Real Salt Lake were saved by the flag but a Real Salt Lake defender committed a hand ball in the box that it will be checked to see if the herons will get a penalty from Messi's shot. The first major VAR review for the crew on the night but they will stay with the call on the field so no penalty.

February 22, 2024, 2:33 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:33 pm EST
 
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So close to goal of the year

Messi weaved through four defenders dropping an absolute dime to Julian Gressel but Gressel was unable to put his shot on target.

February 22, 2024, 2:24 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:24 pm EST
 
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More missed opportunities

Salt Lake has been better in the second half as a giveaway saw Gomez end up with the ball but instead of laying it off to Arango, he decided to take the chance himself driving the shot wide.

February 22, 2024, 2:21 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:21 pm EST
 
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Salt Lake got it wrong

There are a few different ways to face Inter Miami but dropping deep into your own box and giving the Herons free rein on the ball isn't one of them. Salt Lake will need to be more adventurous in the second half as they're lucky to only be behind by a goal at halftime.

February 22, 2024, 2:16 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 9:16 pm EST
 
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Inter Miami 2, Real Salt Lake 0 (FT)

February 22, 2024, 1:59 AM
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Messi doesn't stop attacking for anything 

Andrew Brody went down outside of the Real Salt Lake box but since the play wasn't blown dead, Messi kept going with his shot eventually getting held up by Brody on the pitch. The RSL defender will continue in the match for now as it is almost at the half.

February 22, 2024, 1:58 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:58 pm EST
 
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Robert Taylor with the opening goal of 2024

It was a weird one as MacMath got a hand to it but it seemed to slip through his fingers. Lionel Messi had the assist but found Taylor for the final attack but the RSL keeper will want that one back as it could turn into a long night. 

February 22, 2024, 1:50 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:50 pm EST
 
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Where's the support?

After starting the match with a bit of a press, Salt Lake can't get the ball to Arango and Gomez in the attack letting Miami continue to pressure them with no need to worry about the counter. Being conservative makes sense but Salt Lake will have to come out of their shell soon. 

February 22, 2024, 1:44 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:44 pm EST
 
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Slowly Miami are creating chances

None of them have been too dangerous early but the Herons now have three shots on goal and three corners as the match inches past the 20 minute mark. Messi has the most touches of anyone on the pitch which is just as Tata Martino would like it.

February 22, 2024, 1:35 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:35 pm EST
 
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Glad with the intervention

Real Salt Lake placed defenders on both posts to defend Messi's free kick from outside the box and it worked as Glad's goal line clearance is the only reason that Miami isn't already ahead by a goal. Having research on Messi in his first full season is already paying off.

February 22, 2024, 1:28 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:28 pm EST
 
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A disjointed start

Miami has dominated possession but they haven't been able to turn that into chances as both teams are conceding possession in midfield early on. Real Salt Lake needs balance sooner than later or they'll be overwhelmed in the clash.

February 22, 2024, 1:19 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:19 pm EST
 
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And we're off 

The Herons are now in action and Real Salt Lake's press has already caused issues within the opening moments. 

February 22, 2024, 1:12 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 8:12 pm EST
 
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Table prediction

Due to concerns with depth, I have Miami finishing eighth in the East but with shifted priorities that can win the conference. My reasoning here is when they only need to make playoffs due to every game feeling like a home match with fans cheering for Messi, why work harder to finish higher in the conference while risking injury to key players?

February 22, 2024, 12:57 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:57 pm EST
 
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Who will be the team MVP excluding Messi?

I've already made a case for Suarez and I'm going to double down here. Last season, when Messi wasn't on the pitch Miami looked lost in making attacks happen. Even Campana who was someone that the Herons have played through in the past, seemed helpless out there without the Argentine. Martino is likely aware of this and Suarez can help provide that outlet. It's easy for a team to get starstruck by the gravitational pull of Messi and then feel lost without him, but now boasting two legends in the attack while young players gain experience should help.

February 22, 2024, 12:48 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:48 pm EST
 
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Prediction

After going behind early Miami will get a few goals back but it won't be enough as the first match of the season ends in a well-deserved draw. Pick: Inter Miami 2, Real Salt Lake 2

February 22, 2024, 12:32 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:32 pm EST
 
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Arango enters the battle of the nines

How will he and Diego Luna matchup with the Herons during this one?

Starters: MacMath, Brody, Vera, Glad, Eneli, Palacio, Ojeda, Gomez, Ruiz, Luna, Arango

Reserves: Beavers, Oviedo, Davis, Holt, Silva, Ramierez, Caliskan, Barajas, Julio

February 22, 2024, 12:27 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:27 pm EST
 
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That's an attacking XI 

Luis Suarez will start in the center from the start for Inter Miami. Here's how the herons will lineup

Starters: Callender, Alba, Kryvtsov, Aviles, Yedlin, Gomez, Busquets, Gressel, Taylor, Suarez, Messi

Reserves: Dos Santos, Allen, Boatwright, Borgelin, Campana, Mota, Ruiz, Sailor, Sunderland

February 22, 2024, 12:21 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:21 pm EST
 
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Inter Miami storylines

The Herons will score their fair share of goals but defensively there are concerns. If Messi and Suarez can't combine for 40 goals this season, will Miami have enough firepower to win the Eastern Conference? It's going to be fascinating to see how Miami attack this season especially with Concacaf Champions Cup play right around the corner as well.  

February 22, 2024, 12:20 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:20 pm EST
 
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Real Salt Lake storylines

All eyes will be on Diego Luna, Salt Lake's attacking midfielder who also helped the United States qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Luna's seven league goals were the 10th-best mark of players 24 and under in the league last season and he also added three assists to go along with them as his direct style can trouble a Miami defense that lost a lot with Kamal Miller heading to Portland. But Luna isn't the only attacking threat as a full season of Cristian Arango on the team will be a dangerous thing for defenses.   

February 22, 2024, 12:15 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:15 pm EST
 
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How to watch and odds

  • Date: Wednesday, Feb. 21 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • Location: Chase Stadium -- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • TV: None  | Live stream: MLS Season Pass
  • Odds: Inter Miami -180; Draw +340; Real Salt Lake +425
February 22, 2024, 12:03 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:03 pm EST
 
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Hello and welcome

MLS is back like it never left but quite a lot has changed over the past few months even just down to the fact that Miami will kick off in Chase Field now with Luis Suarez in the team. The Herons have taken a hit defensively with Kamal Miller now in Portland but against a Salt Lake side that are looking to continue their resurgence in the Western Conference, it will be an ample test for the Miami defense. 

February 22, 2024, 12:03 AM
Feb. 21, 2024, 7:03 pm EST

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