Inter Miami erases 2-goal deficit to beat Montreal as Messi arrives in Canada

CF Montreal was home on Saturday, but a player on the opposing team stole the night.

Lionel Messi — considered by many as the greatest footballer ever — took the American soccer scene by storm with his move from Europe to Major League Soccer last year.

“Messi Mania” finally flocked north of the border this weekend, as Inter Miami CF erased a two-goal deficit to edge CF Montreal 3-2 in the Argentine superstar’s professional debut in Canada.

“The atmosphere was crazy,” Montreal striker Jules-Anthony Vilsaint said despite the loss. “One of the craziest nights I’ve seen in Saputo Stadium.”

An announced sellout crowd of 19,619 feverish spectators featured many CF Montreal shirts, but the baby blue Argentina and pink Inter Miami colours — and one fan even dressed in a Messi tracksuit wearing a goat mask — were overwhelming.

So were the “Messi! Messi! Messi!” chants throughout the evening, even with Montreal down a goal late.

“I understand the people are cheering for Messi,” Montreal head coach Laurent Courtois said. “For me as a head coach when I’m losing, hearing my stadium cheering the other guy when we’re losing, it’s tough.”

Messi wasn’t the only star in the house. Fellow former FC Barcelona stars Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets joined him in the starting lineup.

Suarez scored his league-leading 11th goal of the season, Matias Rojas produced a goal and an assist, and Benjamin Cremaschi scored the winner in the 59th minute as league-leading Miami (8-2-3) won its fifth straight game.

Messi Mania, however, came and went in Montreal without a goal or assist from the man himself despite his scorching-hot form.

The 36-year-old entered the match with 10 goals and 12 assists in eight league games after a record-setting one-goal, five-assist showing last week, but was held off the scoresheet for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, Montreal’s Vilsaint had a goal and an assist under the Messi spotlight.

“I’m just still in the moment, it doesn’t feel real,” Vilsaint said. “I feel like it just went all too fast. I have no words to explain it.

“To share the pitch with these guys, it’s something unforgettable.”

WATCH | Lionel Messi: the hidden secret to his success:

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Duke goal special

Bryce Duke also scored for Montreal (3-5-3), and said doing it against Messi made it even more special.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Duke said. “You watch him when you’re younger on TV and he’s one of those guys that every time he plays you’re kind of in awe and then to share a field with him or share the pitch with them, it’s cool.

“Definitely keeping that in my memories.”

The home side dropped points for the fourth consecutive MLS match. The club played its first game since officially parting ways with sporting officer Olivier Renard on Thursday.

After Suarez and Rojas scored late in the first half, Cremaschi put the visitors ahead 3-2, sliding into the ball and beating Jonathan Sirois after a Montreal defensive breakdown.

Montreal pressed for an equalizer much of the second half but couldn’t generate quality chances on goal.

Messi, seeking a goal, started showing off his talent late in the second half. The star forward had multiple runs through Montreal’s defence and also won a free kick at the edge of the box in the 87th minute, setting the stage for the crowd to erupt with a goal.

The main attraction didn’t deliver, sending his shot just over the bar.

“It’s a big achievement for the team,” Duke said of keeping Messi off the scoresheet. “Especially after last week where he’s got five assists and a goal. I mean, it’s crazy.”

Fireworks went off outside the stadium to kick off the spectacle. The crowd erupted with Messi’s first touch before the superstar immediately gave it away.

Montreal then pounced on the attack in an electric first half.

Duke opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a left-footed finish between the legs of Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender after a perfect through ball from Vilsaint.

Vilsaint then placed a clinical shot into the bottom-right corner after a give-and-go with Ariel Lassiter in the 32nd.

“I’m really, really pleased with the performance,” Courtois said. “The way we arrived with quality movement, and allowing us to arrive more established and limit the turnovers against the two best players of the last decades in their position, pretty much.”

The fans held their breath in the 40th minute when Montreal’s George Campbell caught Messi in the leg with a hard foul.

Messi fell to the ground in pain for several minutes as trainers took the field, but ultimately got back up to draw more cheers.

With Messi temporarily off the field, Rojas made his best impression of the all-time great. Rojas curled a gorgeous free kick from 30 metres out into the net in the 44th minute to get Miami on the board.

“To concede versus 10 men that way because we’re not about to close off the half mentally is a heartbreaker, but it’s my fault,” Courtois said.

Suarez then tied the match in first-half injury time with a header at the back post off a corner kick before Cremaschi’s go-ahead goal.

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