Inter Miami now owns an 11-0-1 record since acquiring star striker Lionel Messi. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Sept. 9 (UPI) — Inter Miami showed Lionel Messi doesn’t need to be a lineup regular to win in MLS, beating Sporting Kansas City in their first game without the Argentina star Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Forward Leonardo Campana scored twice in the 3-2 victory at DRV PNK Stadium. The Herons remain unbeaten (11-0-1) since acquiring Messi, who missed his first game because of international playing duties with Argentina.
Facunda Farias also scored, while Sergio Busquets and DeAndre Yedlin assisted goals for the Herons.
Messi might have been absent, but the Herons’ starting lineup didn’t lack star power. Fellow international acquisitions Jordi Alba and Busquets remained as respective defensive and midfield anchors.
Farias, Nicolas Stefanelli and Robbie Robinson started alongside Campana as part of a new-look Herons attack, with Messi, Josef Martinez and Robert Taylor all on international break.
Forward Daniel Salloi drew first blood for the Wizards in the 9th minute.
Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez started the play with a shot from about 25 yards out. Herons goalie Drake Callender knocked down the shot, but the ball deflected into the box. The Herons defense allowed Salloi to run free on the play. He finished the sequence with a shot past Callender from point-blank range.
The Herons equalized in the 25th minute. That score was prompted when Wizards goalie Tim Melia fouled Campana in the box.
Campana then converted on a low penalty kick into the right side of the net.
The Herons scored a go-ahead goal just before the halftime whistle, with Campana beating Melia for a second time in the 45th minute.
Yedlin set up the score with an electric possession on the right side of the Wizards box. The Herons right back took on Salloi at the start of the play. He dribbled left before bouncing the ball right with the outside of his right boot.
Yedlin recovered the ball just before the end line and chipped a high cross into the box, finding Campana. The Herons forward finished the play with a header into the right side of the net.
Farias pushed the lead to two goals in the 60th minute.
Busquets took advantage of a distracted Wizards defense on that play. The veteran midfielder took the ball after a stoppage in play and ripped a pass up the field for Farias, who raced past midfield without a defender in pursuit. He then reached the box and placed a shot into the near-post netting.
The Wizards cut into the deficit in the 78th minute, with striker Alan Pulido beating Callender. Pulido raced to a loose ball at the left corner of the Herons box for that score.
He split several defenders, gained possession and finished the play with a shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
The Wizards continued to threaten, with several close attempts down the stretch, but could not convert an equalizer. They controlled 54% of the possession and out-passed the Herons 511 to 453 in the loss.
The Herons (8-14-4), who have 28 points, remain in 14th place in Eastern Conference, with eight regular-season games remaining.
They are one point behind the 13th-place New York Red Bulls (29), two back of 12th place NYCFC (30) and three points behind 11th place Charlotte FC (31).
The Chicago Fire sit in 10th, with 32 points. No. 9 DC United, who drew with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in Washington, D.C., totaled 34 points through 28 games.
A total of 18 teams will make the MLS playoffs, including the Top 8 from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
The Herons will face sixth-place Atlanta United in another MLS game at 5 p.m. EDT Sept. 16 in Atlanta. They will host last-place Toronto FC on Sept. 20 at DRV PNK Stadium.
The Herons will take on the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final Sept. 27 in Fort Lauderdale.