It is hoped that Lionel Messi will make his debut for Inter Miami CF on Friday. Even before his official unveiling, Messi’s arrival is seen as a significant boost for Inter Miami, MLS, and football in the United States.
Before Inter Miami’s clash against Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, an annual cup-style tournament featuring all MLS teams and Liga MX teams from Mexico, South Florida fans might catch a glimpse of Messi in an Argentina and Inter Miami jersey, along with his billboards going up.
Fans will have to wait until next month for Messi’s MLS debut, but when Inter Miami plays in his city next time, they’ll find tickets in high demand compared to regular matches.
Experts say it’s just an initial indication of what the World Cup winner’s unique fame and skills could bring to MLS.
For example, after Messi announced his intention to join the team last month, Inter Miami’s social media following exploded. The club’s Instagram followers now stand at 10.5 million, compared to nearly 1 million at the start of June.
“Just the interest and eyeballs on this are going to be tremendous. And I think that raises the level for Major League Soccer overall,” said Callum Kerr, a former MLS player and match analyst for Apple TV.
The United States is preparing to host next year’s Copa America tournament and will co-host the next World Cup in 2024 with Mexico and Canada. In the upcoming summers, America will be home to the expanded Club World Cup for the first time.
“There’s just so much energy and excitement and momentum behind that. It kind of feels like there’s just this kind of rocket fuel behind us,” Kerr said.
While North America has many football teams rising with budding stars and skilled veterans, analysts say Messi is a generational talent who can single-handedly impact how the league is perceived.
Experts believe that Argentina’s World Cup winner Lionel Messi could help boost interest in Major League Soccer (MLS) and soccer in the United States.
Ending a two-year stint with Paris Saint-Germain and rejecting offers from clubs in Saudi Arabia, the 36-year-old signed a contract that will keep him in Miami until 2025.
Presented in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 18,000 at the club’s 18,000-seat stadium last week, alongside co-owner and businessman Jorge Mas and retired England star David Beckham, who played for Inter Miami.
Inter Miami has been struggling since its first season in 2020.
However, this month they’ve already strengthened their roster with top players, including some former Barcelona teammates of Messi: midfielder Sergio Busquets and full-back Jordi Alba. Rumors suggest that experienced Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez – with whom Messi formed a deadly partnership in Spain – might also make this move.
Messi will also join forces with his former Barcelona and Argentina manager, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who was appointed as Inter Miami’s head coach at the end of June.
Courtemanche called Messi’s arrival a “pivotal moment” that will help accelerate the league’s dominance. To underline the rise of the league, he hinted at increased attendance in stadiums, MLS clubs’ financial power – the value of the LAFC is $1 billion – and a streaming deal with Apple this season.
“He’s a player that had many options for his next chapter in his career – heck, any league in the world – and he chose Major League Soccer,” Courtemanche said.
In football terms, MLS might not be at the level of some top European leagues. Arsenal, the runner-up in the English Premier League, defeated the MLS All-Star team 5-0 this week.
However, Courtemanche argued that the league is closing the gap, citing MLS’s representation of more than 35 players in Western Hemisphere in the 2022 World Cup, more than any other league.
All in all, Messi’s entry into Major League Soccer promises to be a game-changer and a pivotal moment that can elevate the sport’s popularity and reputation in the United States. His presence brings excitement, energy, and the potential to transform the league’s landscape for the better.
MLS, which includes three Canadian teams, follows a different model than traditional national league football seen around the world. Instead, it takes inspiration from other top American sports competitions, where there’s no promotion or relegation. Its 29 teams are divided into two conferences, spanning the eastern and western regions of the United States and Canada.
At the end of the regular season, the top teams from each conference participate in a knockout-style tournament known as the playoffs, with the winners crowned as MLS Cup champions.
For now, Messi’s challenge in his first MLS season with Inter Miami is to elevate the team from the lower part of the Eastern Conference and secure a playoff spot.
But his impact extends beyond the pitch.
After Messi’s announcement in June, former president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, told Al Jazeera that Argentina’s superstar could help increase interest in football among American fans like no other player.
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