Lionel Messi scores twice, Luis Suarez answers all sorts of doubts in Inter Miami romp over Orlando City

Lionel Messi scores twice, Luis Suarez answers all sorts of doubts in Inter Miami romp over Orlando City

Luis Suarez, even with a hobbled knee, scored twice and dished two assists in Inter Miami’s 5-0 win over Orlando City. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Luis Suarez spent most of his first two months in Major League Soccer hobbling, literally.

He hobbled out of Inter Miami's training facility on the first day of preseason. He hobbled around fields in Saudi Arabia and Japan, in Southern California and Florida. He hobbled because his right knee is falling apart, because pain is shooting through his 37-year-old body, and so, naturally, pundits wondered whether MLS would ever see the generational striker who'd devoured soccer's toughest leagues for nearly two decades.

Suarez answered those questions Saturday in Inter Miami's 5-0 romp over Orlando City.

He answered with two trademark goals, two assists and a joyous chuckle.

He answered with his typical fire, and with a performance that overshadowed two Lionel Messi goals — including one scored with the chest.

Suarez answered all sorts of doubts, and, well, of course he did. Of course he will devour MLS, like he did Uruguay's Primera and Holland's Eredivisie, like he did England's Premier League and Spain's La Liga, like he did Brazil's Serie A.

He will retire soon, and probably still be scoring wherever he can find a ball, a goal and an audience. He might be hobbled for the rest of his life, but he will score wherever he goes.

“We know what Luis is capable of doing," Messi said postgame. "I think everyone knows, no?"

He was being doubted, though, because — well, just look it him. Watch him walk. See him wince as he tries to run. "He looks like he’s in real pain," MLS broadcast analyst Taylor Twellman wrote after calling two Miami games. "Feel bad for him."

Behind the scenes, he is in pain. It stems from a 2020 knee surgery at Barcelona. "In the last stage of recovery, the pandemic came," Suarez recently explained. He couldn't finish his rehab. Inside his right knee, his cartilage is worn. His bones are vulnerable. "No liquid is being generated," he said on Uruguayan radio in December.

So before every game in Brazil last year, he'd take three pills. He'd get a pain-masking injection. "It is reaching a limit," the president of his Brazilian club, Gremio, said in June. Respected analysts thought he was finished.

Then, of course, he exploded for 29 goals in a single MVP season.

He left Gremio to join Inter Miami, and the MLS intelligentsia should have known better than to overreact to a few games. And yet, after Inter Miami struggled last week against the LA Galaxy, some wondered whether their No. 9 was the problem. "The issue is they are getting nothing from Suárez,” Twellman said. “That's not a hot take. Luis Suárez is barely running on two legs, he's barely getting that knee ready to play every single game."

But "barely" is enough. Suarez has never been a graceful soccer player. He has always been an unconventional, unparalleled killer. That's what he'll be in MLS until he retires, or until his knee crumbles.

That's what he was on Saturday. Yes, Messi also scored twice, but this was the Luis Suarez show. Just four minutes in, he wrapped his lethal right foot around a blistering Julian Gressel cross, and guided it into the back of the net, before Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese could even set his feet.

That first goal, Messi said afterward, "changed the whole game."

Seven minutes later, Suarez combined with Gressel again for a second.

He nearly had a third before halftime, but was ruled offside by the thinnest of margins.

He also could have had a third in the 29th minute. He beat Orlando's sloppy offside trap with ease. This time, though, he squared to Robert Taylor, who gave Inter a 3-0 lead.

He jawed and nearly scuffled with the Orlando bench at halftime. After cooling down in the Chase Stadium locker room, he heated up again after the break. After Messi's first made it 4-0, Suarez completed the rout with a pinpoint left-footed cross, which Messi headed calmly past Gallese.

This was supposed to be a hotly contested rivalry, a highly anticipated game between two Eastern Conference contenders. Suarez, Gressel and Messi turned it into a demolition — and a statement.

The early concerns were overblown.

Inter Miami, the most talented MLS team ever, is off and running.


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