Messi-less Miami crushed 5-2 in Atlanta
FILE - Argentina soccer star Lionel Messi waves during a ceremony at the CONMEBOL headquarters in Asuncion, Paraguay, Monday, March 27, 2023. Lionel Messi says he is coming to Inter Miami and joining Major League Soccer. After months of speculation, Messi announced his decision Wednesday, June 7, to join a Miami franchise that has been led by another global soccer icon in David Beckham since its inception but has yet to make any real splashes on the field. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz, File)

MIAMI, United States (AFP) — Inter Miami rested Lionel Messi and suffered their first defeat since the Argentine joined the club, with a 5-2 hammering at Atlanta United damaging their play-off hopes on Saturday.

Messi had not made the trip to Atlanta, with a club source saying he was suffering from fatigue after a busy run of games since making his Miami debut in late July.

The 36-year-old had sat out Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia in La Paz on Tuesday, but watched his teammates from the bench.

Messi had been substituted in the final minutes of the 1-0 win over Ecuador on September 7, after scoring the winner, but there have been no reports of an injury.

With no Messi last week Miami had beaten Sporting Kansas City 3-2, but this time it was a very different story for Gerardo "Tata" Martino's team.

Miami went ahead in the 25th minute with a superbly taken goal from in form Ecuadorean striker Leonardo Campana.

Dixon Arroyo's shot flew out off the crossbar and Campana chested the ball down, lost Miles Robinson with a clever touch, and then volleyed home with his left foot.

But the response from Atlanta, sixth in the Eastern Conference, was emphatic with three goals in the space of eight minutes.

A glancing header from French midfielder Tristan Muyamba, which struck the inside of the post, was ruled to have crossed the line by the assistant referee.

Five minutes later Atlanta had the lead when Brazilian winger Xande Silva dribbled to the byline and had his pull-back turned into his own net by Miami defender Kamal Miller.

Miami's defence, without former Spain international left back Jordi Alba, were reeling and the rampant Atlanta attack took full advantage, Brooks Lennon adding the third in the 44th minute with a sweetly struck shot after being set up by Caleb Wiley.

The blitz of goals left Miami with plenty to ponder at the interval and they came out strongly, pulling a goal back in the 54th minute.

Tomas Aviles's shot struck the arm of Atlanta defender Luis Abram and Referee Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot, with Campana's composed shot sending Brad Guzan the wrong way.

Miami have made a habit of second-half comebacks in the club's Messi era but lacking the impact of the former Barcelona star, they were unable to build sustained momentum.

As they pushed forward in search of an equaliser, Atlanta caught them on the counter.

The break ended with Georgian substitute Saba Lobjanidze squaring to Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis who slotted home his 14th goal of the season, bringing him level with Nashville's Hany Mukhtar as joint top scorer in MLS.

Another well-worked swift break resulted in the fifth in the 89th minute with Lobjanidze — again the creator — setting up Tyler Wolff to blast home.

Miami remain next to bottom of the Eastern Conference, six points behind DC United who occupy ninth place, the last play-off spot.

Earlier, the 'Hudson River derby' between New York City and New York Red Bulls ended goalless.

Later on Saturday, Los Angeles FC hosted cross-city rivals LA Galaxy in their derby while last year's MLS runners-up, Philadelphia Union, hosted Eastern Conference leaders Cincinnati.

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