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Messi’s double helps Inter Miami stay at the top

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi scored twice and set up another goal for Sergio Busquets as Inter Miami defeated Nashville 3-1 on Saturday to maintain top spot in Major League Soccer (MLS).

Miami suffered an early setback when their defender Franco Negri deflected a Daniel Lovitz corner into his own net in the second minute of the match at Chase Stadium.

Gerardo Martino’s side have now failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 11 games and it could have been worse when Josh Bauer fired a shot against the crossbar three minutes later.

But Messi soon had Miami level – the Argentinian was released by a clever flick from Diego Gomez and saw a shot parried by Nashville keeper Elliot Panicco, but after Luis Suarez turned the loose ball back to him, Messi slotted home to make it one. 1 in the 11th minute.

Two minutes later, Messi took advantage of some sloppy play from Nashville, but his low right-foot shot hit the post.

Everything Miami created came through Messi, who fired a snap shot wide before moments later whipping in a cross for Gomez’s header, which was saved by Panicco’s feet.

Messi and Suarez fire Inter Miami to CONCACAF quarter-finals

Six minutes before the break, Messi’s former Barcelona teammate Busquets found the net for the first time in MLS and found the World Cup winner’s corner with a fine header at the near post.

But there was a blow for the home side just before half-time when Paraguayan international Gomez was stretchered off with an ankle injury, the latest in a string of injuries for Miami.

His replacement, Brazilian-born youngster Leonardo Afonso, had the ball in the net, but his effort was ruled out for offside.

Nashville came out strongly after the break, but despite dominating possession for the first twenty minutes of the half, they had little to show for their efforts other than a couple of off-target long-range efforts from German Hany Mukhtar.

Nine minutes from time, Miami was able to end the match when Afonso was judged to have been brought down by Bauer in the penalty area and Messi fired home the penalty.

The goal was Messi’s ninth goal in as many games in all competitions for Miami this season.

Elsewhere in MLS on Saturday, champion Columbus Crew had to come from behind twice to earn a 2-2 draw against Phil Neville’s Portland Timbers.

Last season’s top teams, Cincinnati, recorded an impressive 2-1 victory at Atlanta United, despite going behind to a beautiful, curling shot from Argentine midfielder Thiago Almada in the 59th minute.

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