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Messi, Miami’s awful preseason ends with Newell’s Old Boys draw

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami wrapped up their eventful Major League Soccer preseason with a 1-1 draw against Messi’s childhood team, Newell’s Old Boys, on Thursday evening.

It marked the first encounter between the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner and the club, where both he and Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino grew up in Rosario, Argentina.

Messi, who played for Newell’s as a child before joining FC Barcelona, showed signs of his usual brilliance on the field despite not making a significant impact on the game.

Messi had missed a Feb. 4 preseason win in Hong Kong because of nagging injuries. He stayed on the bench for the entire game with a groin injury as fans booed and demanded refunds.

Messi checked out of the game Thursday with Inter Miami’s Luis Suarez in the 60th minute. That’s when a young fan sprinted onto the field with his arms stretched toward Messi before being intercepted by security.

Shanyder Borgelin put Inter Miami ahead 1-0 with a header in the 64th minute, and Newell’s Franco Díaz tied it in the 83rd minute.

Messi’s first MLS preseason was messy. Inter Miami set off on a global tour of exhibition games aimed at promotion and marketing, featuring Messi and the Uruguayan star Suarez. But the tour received mostly bad PR, as well as not-so-great results on the field.

Inter Miami was outscored 12-7 in its first five games before a win in Hong Kong. That victory was highly overshadowed by angry fans when neither Messi nor Suarez took the field.

“We understand the disappointment of the fans for the absence of Leo (Messi) and Luis Suarez,” Martino said after that game. “We understand a lot of fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent Leo and Luis on for at least a while but the risk was too big.”

Inter Miami will now turn its attention to the 2024 regular season, hoping for better success after fizzling late last season. The club will host Real Salt Lake on Feb. 21.

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