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Miami and MLS roll out the red carpet for their Messi-ah

Messi did not have any starting trouble as he scored a free-kick in the stoppage time to take his side to a 2-1 victory.

Messi did not have any starting trouble as he scored a free-kick in the stoppage time to take his side to a 2-1 victory.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Lionel Messi and the USA’s Major League Soccer is an alliance none would have dreamt of. But the whimsical thought turned into a legitimate rumour quickly, materialising into one of the most influential moments in American soccer history as the Argentine star signed for David Beckham’s Inter Miami.

The land of opportunity has given itself a golden chance to make a name in men’s soccer — or football as it is known in other parts of the world — through the arrival of Messi. The 2026 FIFA World Cup, to be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada, would be boosted by the presence of a flourishing domestic league which attracts more eyeballs and footfalls.

MLS’ defining moment came when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped onto the field at the DRV PNK Stadium, his new home. Messi emerged from the dugout in the 54th minute of the League Cup game against Cruz Azul and was duly handed the captain’s armband — a symbol of his responsibility to take care of not only the team but also the league’s popularity.

The 36-year-old stepped in along with his former FC Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets and the duo made an instant impact, forcing many to reminisce the glory days at Camp Nou. The match was heading for a draw when the magician pulled a rabbit out of his hat. With an incredible left-footed free-kick in the 94th minute, he found the top left corner, sending the legends of other sports (LeBron James and Serena Williams, among others) and the fans into a frenzy.

The packed stadium, which also had quite a few celebrities rooting for Messi and Miami, erupted as Leo ran towards the sidelines to hug his family and celebrate the strike.

“Tonight’s a dream come true for everybody in this stadium and everybody in this country to see Leo step into the MLS and perform. I don’t have many words for that,” Beckham told an MLS reporter after Miami’s 2-1 victory.

Messi joining the league is a shot in the arm the MLS needed as more and more big names like Busquets and Jordi Alba (both World Cup winners) have also moved to the United States. The country’s association with football has been mostly driven by its prolific women’s team and with the men’s WC coming up in three years, it would look to step it up on all fronts: on field exploits and a strong fan following.

Lionel Messi controls the ball as Sergio Busquets looks on during Leagues Cup 2023 match between Cruz Azul and Inter Miami CF.

Lionel Messi controls the ball as Sergio Busquets looks on during Leagues Cup 2023 match between Cruz Azul and Inter Miami CF.
| Photo Credit:

Assembling a strong squad for the home World Cup would be the United States’ top priority. And what better way to get ready than play with the best in the world, day in and day out. This is what Messi’s presence has put in motion.

The transfer market this season also saw Saudi Arabian clubs coming up with ludicrous offers to snatch the sport’s best, the latest and most audacious being Al-Hilal’s record bid for Kylian Mbappe (€300 million)! In a competitive market where the established European clubs are favoured destinations, Messi’s signature for Miami has turned heads in MLS’ direction.

“The MLS has all the capabilities of becoming one of the biggest leagues in the world. You can see how the Saudis are trying to get certain players. So for MLS to get Messi was huge,” Wayne Rooney, MLS club D.C. United’s manager, told The Athletic.

MLS commissioner Don Garber had said that Messi’s decision to ply his trade in the States was proof of the league’s growth. “When you have the best player of all time making Major League Soccer his league of choice, I think it’s a real testament as to where MLS is and where it’s going in the years ahead,” said Garber during Messi’s official unveiling.


Inter Miami’s Instagram follower count increased from around 1 million to 12 million after the club signed Messi

For the second time in his career, the Argentine scored a direct free-kick winner in stoppage time. The earlier one was for PSG against Lille in February this year

Ticket demand for Messi’s MLS debut averaged at $487 with some willing to spend as much as $1,10,000 (approx ₹90 lakh) to catch a glimpse of the legend

Apart from the loftier goals, the Argentine, under the direction of Gerardo Martino, must inspire the team that is languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings to at least the top nine for playoff qualification.

“He won’t find it easy here. It sounds mad, but players who come in find it’s a tough league. The travel, the different conditions in different cities… there’s also a lot of energy and intensity on the pitch,” Rooney told The Times of London.

The time for theory and speculation has passed as Messi has inked a deal that will keep him with Miami until at least December 2025. And action comes thick and fast with his next assignment coming against Atlanta United in the wee hours of Wednesday (in India).

Messi in the MLS is just the flapping of the butterfly’s wings for now. However, as Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder teaches, the decision of arguably the best footballer to don the Miami colours has triggered the ‘butterfly effect’ for soccer in the United States of America.

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