In arguably the biggest sports deal in American history, Lionel Messi’s move to Major League Soccer is seismic for the sport’s growth in the U.S. The superstar has won LaLiga, Ligue 1, the Champions League and the World Cup. Now, he faces a new challenge with Inter Miami.
Miami sits bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, with 18 points from 22 games, and is suffering through an 11-game winless streak. With 12 games left in the MLS regular season, Miami must reach ninth place to have a chance to reach the playoffs. If Miami gets to ninth, it will play the eighth-place team in a wild-card match to qualify for Round 1 of the playoffs. Right now, the team is 12 points behind current ninth-place holders D.C. United but has two games in hand.
Luckily for Messi, there is a pause in the regular season for the Leagues Cup, a monthlong competition between all MLS and Liga MX sides (47 teams total) that runs from July 21 to Aug. 19. Miami’s MLS season then picks back up on Aug. 20 against Charlotte FC, and Miami also plays in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup against FC Cincinnati on Aug. 23.
In total, Messi could win three trophies in his debut MLS season:
Leagues Cup: Group stage; Next game July 21 vs. Cruz Azul
U.S. Open Cup: Semifinals; Next game Aug. 23 vs. FC Cincinnati
MLS: 15th place in Eastern Conference (top nine sides qualify for MLS Cup playoffs); Next game Aug. 20 vs Charlotte FC
Check in here as ESPN tracks all of Messi’s appearances for Inter Miami and provides instant analysis and reaction.
July 21, Leagues Cup: Inter Miami vs. Cruz Azul
Lionel Messi gets loud ovation upon entering for Inter Miami debut
Lionel Messi enters onto the pitch for the first time in a game as a member of Inter Miami.
Messi made his long-awaited debut for Miami in the 54th minute, with his new club winning 1-0 early in the second half. However it wouldn’t take long for the Liga MX team to get back into the game, with Uriel Antuna thumping a low shot beyond Drake Callender after some lax defending gave him room to shoot.
In the final minutes, Messi thought he’d beaten the offside trap and set up Josef Martinez for a simple, open goal tap-in but was judged late on to have been behind the final defender.
Then in the 93rd minute, Messi was fouled by midfielder Jesus Duenas, giving him a chance to win the game with a free-kick. And, in typical Messi fashion, he curled it beyond Andres Gudino with his left foot, into the top corner, to give Inter Miami a 2-1 win in their Leagues Cup opener at DRV PNK Stadium.
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