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No Messi, no problem: Inter Miami downs slumping Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1

VANCOUVER — Missing soccer icon Lionel Messi wasn't an issue for Inter Miami on Saturday. Even without the World Cup-winning superstar, Miami (10-4-2) cruised to a 2-1 victory over the slumping Whitecaps (5-5-4) in Vancouver.
Inter Miami's Robert Taylor, back centre, scores a goal as he takes a shot past Vancouver Whitecaps' Mathias Laborda, right, and Ranko Veselinovic, front left, during the first half of an MLS soccer match, in Vancouver, on Saturday, May 25, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Missing soccer icon Lionel Messi wasn't an issue for Inter Miami on Saturday.

Even without the World Cup-winning superstar, Miami (10-4-2) cruised to a 2-1 victory over the slumping Whitecaps (5-5-4) in Vancouver.

Fans were outraged earlier in the week to hear Miami wasn't bringing Messi to play in B.C. because of the club's congested Major League Soccer schedule. The team also left Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets in Florida.

“We have come without our biggest players. … And even then we have competed very well," Miami's head coach, Gerardo (Tata) Martino, said through an interpreter.

"That is a very valuable thing, of course. If we had lost, even if we had competed as well as we did tonight, we would not be as happy as we are now. I think this is a big prize for these players for the effort that they’ve done.”

Pink No. 10 Messi jerseys still dotted the announced crowd of 51,035 and chants of "Where is Messi?" broke out in the game's early minutes.

Saturday's result stretched Vancouver's winless skid to six games (0-3-3) in MLS play while Miami's unbeaten streak grew to 10 straight outings (7-0-3).

“(Major League Soccer) is like this. Every team goes through this kind of period during the season," Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said after the loss.

"So it's too easy to show that we are a compact group when everything is going well. We need to show it now. And so we are conscious of the fact that we need to do better, but also we're conscious of the fact that we can do better. So we’ll go from there.”

Robert Taylor scored and contributed an assist, while Leo Campana also found the back of the net for Miami (10-4-2).

Ryan Gauld replied for the 'Caps (5-5-4), converting a penalty kick in the 72nd minute.

Miami's Drake Callender made one save and Yohei Takaoka stopped four on-target shots for Vancouver.

The 'Caps started off with an aggressive offence, and came tantalizingly close to opening the scoring in the eighth minute. Gauld sent a cross to Fafa Picault at the far post and the striker headed it down, only to see his shot blocked by Marcelo Weigandt.

Miami peppered Takaoka with shots across the first half and finally beat the Japanese keeper in the 38th minute.

Jordi Alba sent a ball to Taylor, who got around Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda inside the penalty area, then blasted a right-footed shot past Takaoka to put Miami up 1-0.

Vancouver did not register a shot on target through the first half, while the visitors logged five.

The Whitecaps have struggled to find the back of the net recently, scoring just two goals in their last four MLS games. The club had 14 goals across their first six games of the season.

“I think that we’re still doing the same things we were doing earlier on in the year, getting to the right spots and creating chances. But it just feels like we’re getting a little unlucky," said midfielder Ali Ahmed. "We have to be better and hold ourselves accountable.”

Taylor troubled the 'Caps once again in the 54th minute, dancing around Laborda before dishing the ball off to Campana at the top of the six-yard box. Campana then tapped a shot in to give Miami a 2-0 lead in the 54th minute.

A video review in the 69th minute gave Vancouver life.

Tomas Aviles bodychecked Picault inside the penalty area and, while the foul wasn't initially called, the play was double-checked by the video assistant referee and a penalty was awarded.

Gauld stepped up to take the kick and sent a right-footed shot past a diving Callendar, cutting Vancouver's deficit to 2-1 in the 72nd minute.

The home side continued to press in the final minutes, but couldn't find the equalizer.

“I think it’s a lot a matter of confidence at the moment," Sartini said. "So we need to reinstate the confidence and try to get points immediately because it’s too easy now to be with the head down but we need to be with the head up and try to go full speed in (our next game)."

The Whitecaps return to action Wednesday when they take on Sporting Kansas City on the road. Miami will host Atlanta United the same night.

NOTES: After the announcement Messi would not come to Vancouver, the Whitecaps offered everyone at Saturday's game a free ticket to another regular-season game in 2024. … Saturday marked the first-ever MLS game between Vancouver and Inter Miami. … Miami midfielder Julian Gressel made his return to B.C. Place. The 30-year-old made 38 appearances across all competitions for Vancouver between 2022 and 2023, putting up seven goals and nine assists.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2024.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press