SEATTLE -- Four years ago, Sigi Schmid was directing the United States at the FIFA under-20 world championships. His first match in the tournament came against Argentina and a budding young star named Lionel Messi, who played only a half against the Americans.
"After the game my first words to [the Argentina coach] was I thanked him very much for only playing Messi 45 minutes," Schmid said. "He was the best player in the world then, and I still think he's the best player in the world."
Blinding in his nuclear peach uniform, Messi put on a display of dominance Wednesday night for an American audience getting a chance to see arguably the world's best team. Messi scored twice in the first half and FC Barcelona continued its preseason tour of the U.S. with a 4-0 win over the Seattle Sounders FC.
His first mark was a punched left-footed drive from outside the penalty box in the 21st minute that Seattle keeper Kasey Keller could only get his fingertips on.
If the first goal was good, the second only helped reinforce the argument the 22-year-old player from Argentina might be the world's best scoring talent. In one motion, Messi settled a perfectly judged pass from Xavi off his chest about 8 yards out and then used his left foot to split the legs of Keller, whose only hope was that Messi misplayed the pass.
Not Messi. He doesn't miss on those, and is already picking up on last season when he scored 38 goals in league and tournament play.
"He makes it look easy, and they're not easy goals," an awed Steve Zakuani said, a DVD of the game tucked under his arm. "I'm going to go home and watch the DVD and see what he did that I didn't do."
Many in the crowd of 66,848, the largest to see a soccer match in Seattle, craved more Messi and fellow Barca stars Thierry Henry and Xavi, but only got one half as the reigning holders of the Treble -- La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles -- continued its exhibition tour. FCB beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 last Saturday and will wrap up the three-match trip on Sunday against CD Chivas de Guadalajara in San Francisco.
The only downside for Barcelona came before the match when central defender Rafael Marquez tore a muscle in his left calf during training Wednesday morning and will miss 10 to 15 days. That means the Mexican captain likely won't play against the United States in a key World Cup qualifier on Aug. 12 in Mexico City.
But for 45 minutes, and even during its preseason, Barcelona's first 11 showed why the team is the current king of Europe.
Barcelona outshot Seattle 16-3, peppering Keller the entire first half with precision, creative passing leading to a constant flow of scoring attempts. Henry had scoring chances, as did emerging 18-year-old Bojan Krkic. Messi nearly netted a hat trick, but his chip shot past a charging Keller in the 39th minute kissed off the far post and stayed out.
"You see him on TV all the time. I see him every day. Of course Messi is a player at a different level," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "(He's) the best in the world, not only for his youth, but for his ability to dominate."
Jeffren Suarez scored in the 75th minute and Pedro Rodriguez in the 89th minute.
The match meant little to Seattle, which has an important MLS contest on Saturday night at Real Salt Lake. That's why regulars like Keller and Freddie Ljungberg played just the first half. Ljungberg, who missed last Sunday's MLS match at San Jose after dealing with a severe migraine during last week's MLS All-Star game, had Seattle's best scoring chance early in the match.
Barcelona reserve keeper Jose Manuel Pinto let a sloppy pass roll up the middle of the penalty area and right to Ljungberg's feet. The Swedish star settled the ball, but his right-footed shot went wide of the net. The Sounders, who lost to Chelsea 2-0 in another international exhibition on July 18, have just one goal in five matches.
"It was an absolute lesson, and hopefully for the fans to see how the best team in the world plays football," Keller said. "I got kicked in the Camp Nou one time, 5-1, I've seen it a couple different times before. I knew what was going to happen. Credit to them -- they're the best team in the world."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press