Messi returns as Miami strikes late to beat D.C. United


Leonardo Campana wins it in stoppage time for Inter Miami

Leonardo Campana's fabulous finish gives Inter Miami a late 1-0 win over D.C. United.

Lionel Messi returned to the starting lineup as Inter Miami struck late to beat D.C. United 1-0 thanks to a stoppage-time goal from substitute Leonardo Campana on a rainy night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Saturday.

Messi, who missed the draw at Orlando City in midweek due to a knee injury suffered against Montreal a week ago, played the full 90 minutes in a game that was delayed close to 30 minutes due to the inclement weather at Chase Stadium.

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When the game did get underway, Messi and Miami struggled to find their attacking rhythm against a dogged and organized D.C. side.

It looked as if Miami was set to be held to a second straight scoreless draw. But Campana, just moments after replacing Matías Rojas, struck an unstoppable effort off the underside of the crossbar following a delightful assist from Sergio Busquets in the fourth minute of added time.

Campana was only able to be brought into the game after a D.C. United's Martin Rodriguez suffered a potential concussion, forcing a substitution and giving Miami an extra change to make.

The victory keeps Miami a point above FC Cincinnati at the top of the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield standings.

"Offensively, we weren't good," Miami coach Gerardo "Tata" Matino said afterward in his postgame news conference. "And weren't good with game management. But we celebrate the three points and it's very valuable because we need to keep adding for when the FIFA windows come around.

"This was a difficult match for Leo Messi, it was complicated. The spaces were small, we had to resolve with defenders on our backs."

Messi's best sight of goal came when he fired over the crossbar from outside the penalty area in the 71st minute. The Argentine has now failed to register a goal or an assist in back-to-back games, the only games he has done so this season.

The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner still has 10 goals and 12 assists in 10 MLS games this season.

D.C., which sits ninth in the Eastern Conference, looked like it could have even snatched a win late on but Miami keeper Drake Callender made a standout save in stoppage time to deny substitute Cristián Dájome moments before Campana gave Miami victory.

"One minute earlier Drake Callender saved us from a goal that could've cost us the game," Martino added. "A draw would've been fair because D.C. United also didn't test us much until that play. We weren't great, we needed to be more dynamic.

"They built a line of five and then four that were very intense, we couldn't break lines and they were threatening on the wings. Defensively we were good, though, we worked on it well until the last play. But it should've been 0-0."

Messi had failed to travel with Miami for the midweek game against Orlando at Inter&co Stadium, after a clash with CF Montréal defender George Campbell last week left him in pain. Though initially considered a precaution, Martino revealed the decision to sideline Messi stemmed from his left-knee injury instead of a premeditated choice to rest the 36-year-old due to physical exhaustion.

Saturday also saw a first start in five weeks for Jordi Alba, after the former Barcelona left-back returned off the bench against Orlando.

"I am a person that believes that everything in life happens for a reason so it was lucky Campana could come in and score," Alba said. "We're very happy for him and the team, and the fact that we continue being leaders."

Inter Miami visits Vancouver next Saturday, while DC United hosts Chicago.

ESPN's Lizzy Becherano contributed to this report.