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Lionel Messi's goals are special, but his assists are what make him and Inter Miami the real threat


If you're thinking about going to see Lionel Messi at a stadium near you this Major League Soccer season or this summer's Copa America, your train of thought is probably predictable.

Fans flock to the Argentine superstar whenever he's in action for Inter Miami, often paying huge secondary market prices for the privilege, with a fairly identical laundry list of priorities.

Naturally, they want to see Messi play, at times with a nagging injury that can lead to a 36-year-old being kicked around a lot by defenders. And they want to see him score, just like you want to see Shohei Ohtani ding over a fence, or Patrick Mahomes want to see a couple of touchdown passes, or Caitlin Clark want to run a bunch of deep threes, etc.

But with Messi's goals filling highlight reels for nearly two decades now, American fans are quickly finding that there are things arguably more enjoyable, and certainly more subtle, than watching him put the ball in the net.

When the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner scores, as he did a ridiculous five times in Inter Miami's 6-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, his true talent is on full display. If you haven't seen the game, check out the highlights. If you've already seen the highlights, watch them again

It's stuff on different levels, magic that's beyond the comprehension of even the most elite football players, us regular folk who love to watch. Just when it seemed like the buzz had died down a bit after Messi's electrifying start to his American adventure last year, here it is again.

With some of his old friends from Barcelona, ​​Messi is having a blast. With Sergio Busquets marshaling the midfield, Luis Suarez ready to pounce on any goal-scoring opportunity and Jordi Alba, Messi's favorite workout partner in the squad but temporarily injured, a smile is never far from his face.

Messi is joint top scorer in MLS with 10, matched only by his pal Suarez, while his 12 assists are clear of the next closest on the list. All despite Inter missing four of their 12 games as the top team in the Eastern Conference and with the league's best overall record.

Messi-fever may not be as frenzied as when he scored that dream free-kick to win his first game last July and lift the team to the League Cup title, but make no mistake, things are still going well. As for all that hyperbolic talk about him being the most important signing in MLS history? It almost, somehow, seems like an understatement.

“I always say the same thing,” Miami head coach Tata Martino told reporters. “It's unnecessary to talk about him. Messi always makes the difference. He was involved in six goals. I don't think we'll ever see anything like that again.”

MLS has never seen anything like this before. His performance against New York made him the first player in league history to have five assists or a role in six in the same game. The effort overshadowed Suarez's magnificent hat-trick, with Martino describing their connection as “like the old days”.

The first assist was nothing special, a nice simple touch into the path of new signing Mathias Rojas, who fired a long-range strike with his left foot.

Others? Magnificent.

Messi scored to give his team a 2-1 lead after 49 minutes, then the All-Pro quarterback got down to the business of taking over the game like a match against high school students.

Inter's third was a work of art, with Messi sending a pass to Rojas that bypassed two Red Bulls defenders by inches and found everyone but the recipient wrong.

Next up was a lovely, curling cross for Suarez, again threading the penalty area needle. Then Suarez gave and took again. Then, finally, a momentum-changing ball with the outside of his left that drew goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, allowing Suarez to sneak around him and score again.

On Monday, Messi was named MLS Player of the Matchday for the third time in four weeks, to go along with his Player of the Month award. Inter, early in the campaign, looked like a puzzle that may not have a solution.

All of which is to say it may be time to reevaluate your audience's priorities.

When Messi decides to set his focus on others, it's breathtaking. It's complex and trigonometric and looking at the game in a completely different way. The game is slower for Messi than for everyone else, a tapestry exclusive to his mind.

Obviously, unless it's your hometown team he's scoring against, or maybe even then, nobody's going to say no to Messi's goal.

But when he becomes provider-in-chief for Inter or Argentina, it's a different treat.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX And Daily newsletter subscription.

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