Lionel Messi made it eight goals in five games for Inter Miami as they eased into the semi-finals of the Leagues Cup with a 4-0 win over Charlotte FC on Friday.
But Major League Soccer champions Los Angeles FC crashed out of the competition after giving up a two goal lead and losing 3-2 at home to Mexico‘s Monterrey.
Miami will travel north to face the Philadelphia Union for Tuesday’s semi-final after they beat Mexican team Queretaro 2-1.
Messi slotted in Miami’s fourth goal, at DRV PNK stadium, in the 86th minute of what was a relatively routine victory for Gerardo Martino’s team.
Watched by Argentina national team coach Lionel Scaloni, Messi had one of his quietest games in Miami’s pink jersey but was still able to find the target for his legions of fans and help secure a fifth straight win since his arrival.
Charlotte, who had been largely content to frustrate Messi and Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets in the opening 45 minutes, showed more adventure after the break and substitute Patrick Agyemang should have pulled a goal back but his close-range header bounced over the bar.
Immediately following that let-off, Miami made sure of victory with Diego Gomez playing a low cross towards Messi in the middle only for Charlotte defender Adilson Malanda‘s attempted interception ended up in his own goal.
Malanda’s ill-fated slide had denied the home crowd their expected Messi goal celebration, but that was to arrive three minutes from the end of time.
With the North Carolina side tiring, Ecuador striker Leonardo Campana had time, inside the box, to calmly look up and slip the ball across to Messi for the simplest of conversions.
After Sunday’s helter-skelter game in Dallas ended 4-4, with Miami progressing after penalties, Martino was pleased to see his team keep control of the contest.
“We kept control of the ball for longer spells and I think there was only one clear chance from the opponent. Other than that I think we didn’t suffer defensively,” said the former Barcelona and Argentina coach.
“It’s very difficult for us not to score goals that’s why we talk a lot about keeping a cleansheet because that’s almost a guarantee of being able to win the game,” he said.
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Philadelphia, runners-up in last season’s MLS Cup, will be the toughest opponent Miami have faced in the Messi-era at the club however.
Jesus Bueno had put Philly ahead in the 11th minute but Queretaro levelled in the second half thanks to a well taken volley at the back post from Angel Sepulveda.
The game looked to be heading for a penalty shoot-out but the Liga MX side saw Omar Mendoza sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow before Donovan grabbed the dramatic winner.
The Mexican side equalized in the 80th minute when Victor Guzman’s shot went in off the outstretched leg of LAFC defender Sergi Palencia.
Two minutes from the end, Jordi Cortiso’s shot was parried out by John McCarthy and Rogelio Funes Mori pounced to get the winner.
Nashville advanced to the semi-finals with a 5-0 crushing of Minnesota United with all the goals coming inside the opening hour but after the sending off of defender DJ Taylor.
Taylor was ruled to have pushed Jacob Shaffelburg in the back as he ran goalwards and Nashville made the most of their numerical advantage as they romped into the last four.