Lionel Messi scores in injury time, Inter Miami salvages draw with LA Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Anyone who thought Lionel Messi and Inter Miami would steamroll over the rest of Major League Soccer this year has already been proven wrong by the upstart LA Galaxy.

Messi was still brilliant enough to keep Miami unbeaten after an early-season test from another marquee MLS club.

Messi scored in the second minute of second-half injury time off a pass from Jordi Alba, and Miami salvaged a 1-1 draw with the Galaxy on Sunday night.

Dejan Joveljic scored in the 75th minute for the Galaxy, who were close to delivering a surprising early-season blow to Messi and his new MLS powerhouse — but with LA down to 10 men, the Argentine superstar worked another bit of magic.

After executing a give-and-go pass sequence with Alba, his longtime Barcelona teammate, Messi slid forward and chipped a shot into the roof of the net above Galaxy goalkeeper John McCarthy.

The goal delivered another thrill to the raucous crowd cheering on both teams at Miami’s first road game of the season. Thousands of fans wore Messi shirts among the 27,642 in attendance — a record for a Galaxy regular-season match at their suburban stadium.

“It was their home opener, and the atmosphere was pretty electric,” said Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender, whose eight saves included a stop on an early penalty shot from Riqui Puig. “It’s still early in the season, so there’s things we need to work on, but earning a point on the road is good. We don’t want to get comfortable at all. We have a long season ahead.”

Inter Miami is a major betting favorite to dominate MLS this season after uniting Messi and Luis Suárez alongside fellow ex-Barca stars Sergio Busquets and Alba — but everybody on Messi’s side knows it won’t be easy.

Miami won its season opener at home last Wednesday, but was frequently outplayed by the rebuilding Galaxy four days later in Messi’s first appearance against the club that once employed Inter co-owner David Beckham.

The Galaxy are famous for the type of high-profile veteran signings amassed by Miami in the past year, but the LA club is rebuilding without big names this time. The young Galaxy still applied more consistent offensive pressure than the league’s new showcase team, racking up 23 shots to Miami’s 11 while repeatedly generating chances in the box.

“Playing against fantastic players, it doesn’t make you afraid,” said Galaxy forward Joseph Paintsil, who was impressive in his debut. “It should give you a boost to be the best version of yourself. … You can see we have really young and talented players in this team. We just need a little bit of time, because we just arrived.”

Miami responded to the Galaxy’s attack with physical defense, but couldn’t put together a consistent response despite Messi’s playmaking. Puig — a product of Barca’s famed La Masia academy — was his usual excellent self in midfield for the Galaxy, while newcomers Paintsil — who drew the early penalty with a canny run past Busquets — and Gabriel Pec made immediate impacts in their debuts.

“It’s true, they dominated the first half,” Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said. “Puig made them play very well, and it’s clear that (with) their two new players, the team is totally different because they have a good No. 9 and two wingers who are dangerous. They played a good game.”

After generating better chances and controlling possession for much of the night, the Galaxy finally broke through late in the second half. Callender made a diving save on Puig’s shot, but Mark Delgado controlled the rebound and passed to a wide-open Joveljic for a tap-in goal.

Delgado was sent off with a second yellow card for a highly debatable foul in the 87th minute, and Messi had a golden opportunity two minutes later when Alba found him with a pass at the top of the Galaxy penalty area. The superstar’s shot flew wide left, leaving him rubbing his forehead in disappointment.

With another chance four minutes later, Messi didn’t miss.

The stadium south of downtown Los Angeles was packed and roiling with excitement two hours before Messi’s first game against the Galaxy, a five-time MLS champion franchise long known as the preferred destination for superstars of Europe looking for a new home after reaching their mid-30s.

Beckham, who catalyzed MLS’ growth with his move to the Galaxy in 2007, has a statue outside the team’s stadium. He’s also a primary reason for Inter’s ascent to the role long occupied by the Galaxy, which employed the likes of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic late in their careers.

The excitement around this match was a thrill for MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

“It sort of represents everything we wanted this sport to be, and have worked so hard for so many years,” said Garber, who met with Beckham and Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz before the game. “Everybody is working hard to build on this momentum. … To me, this is very much about where we were in 2007 and where we are today.”

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