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Argentina legend Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players in the history of football, has said he will join American side Inter Miami after his exit from French champions Paris St-Germain.

“I’ve made the decision that I’m going to Miami,” Messi said in interviews with Barcelona-based publications Sport and Mundo Deportivo. “It’s still not a done deal 100 per cent. I’m missing a few things but we’ve decided to keep going down the path.

“If the Barcelona thing didn’t work out, I wanted to leave Europe, leave the spotlight and focus more on my family.”

Barcelona had wanted to bring Messi back to La Liga, while the 35-year-old also received a lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia. 

But Messi opted for MLS, and the league’s viewership is now expected to skyrocket — particularly among international audiences. 

So, for anyone who is not up to date with America’s major football (or soccer) league, The Athletic has put together a guide to what awaits Messi in MLS.

Which team is Messi joining?

Messi will play for Inter Miami.

For a start, he will have to acclimatise to playing for a team competing at the bottom end of the table as his new side are 15th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Having lost 11 of their opening 16 games of the 2023 MLS season, Inter Miami are a far cry from the team that finished sixth and made it into the MLS Cup play-offs last term.

That finish was the best of their very short history as they finished 10th and 11th in the East in their first two campaigns.

Luckily, Messi will not have to worry about helping his side avoid relegation as that does not exist in MLS, nor in any of the other major US sports leagues.

As for the home stadium he will be playing in, it is quite the downgrade in terms of capacity from Camp Nou (99,354 capacity) and the Parc des Princes (47,929 capacity). Inter Miami’s home — the DRV PNK stadium — holds just 19,100 people. It’s technically a temporary venue, though. The club has plans to move to a new stadium at Miami Freedom Park in 2025, after a lengthy and fierce political battle.

Who will be Messi’s new manager?

That is the million dollar question in MLS at the moment.

Phil Neville took over as the club’s manager in January 2021 and, with the club bottom of the Eastern Conference, Inter Miami confirmed that they had parted ways with the former Manchester United and England defender.

Now, David Beckham and his fellow board members must deal with appointing the 46-year-old’s successor.

Javier Morales — who made 255 MLS appearances across spells at Real Salt Lake and Dallas — has taken over as the interim head coach in the short term.

But by the time Messi arrives on the East coast he might be greeted by a familiar face in the technical area.

The Athletic reported that Inter Miami have held preliminary talks with Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino who is unemployed after leaving his post as Mexico manager following their group stage exit at the 2022 World Cup.

The 60-year-old has managed Messi at club and international level — he coached Barcelona during the 2013-14 season immediately before replacing Alejandro Sabella as Argentina manager.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner played under Martino 66 times; 46 times for Barcelona and 20 times for Argentina.

Martino is no stranger to US football having led Atlanta United between 2016 and 2018. In his last game as manager, they won their first (and to date only) MLS Cup, defeating Portland Timbers in the final.

Who will provide competition for Messi in the MLS MVP race?

The best player in MLS every year is rewarded by being given the Landon Donovan MVP Award. In 2015, MLS renamed the award in honour of the USMNT legend.

Despite joining Inter Miami in the middle of the season, Messi will be aiming to establish himself in the conversations for the MVP award this year and, if he is unable to make up the gap to the current frontrunners this year, he will undoubtedly be the bookmakers’ favourite at the beginning of next year.

Although, it would be disrespectful to the players currently starring in the MLS to claim that it will be a cakewalk for the two-time World Cup Golden Ball winner.

His main competition will be provided by the likes of Thiago Almada, Denis Bouanga, Cristian Espinoza and Sebastian Driussi as well as former MVPs Carlos Vela and Hany Mukhtar.

Plenty of players who made their names in European football have won the award over the last decade.

Last 10 Landon Donovan MVP award winners

  • 2013: Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)
  • 2014: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
  • 2015: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
  • 2016: David Villa (New York City FC)
  • 2017: Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
  • 2018: Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)
  • 2019: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
  • 2020: Alejando Pozuelo (Toronto FC)
  • 2021: Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
  • 2022: Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC)

When could Messi make his Inter Miami debut?

Coming off a season that included 41 games for PSG as well as 12 games — and World Cup celebrations — for Argentina, Messi clearly needs a summer break.

On top of that, the second MLS transfer window does not open until July 5 so he would not be able to play until then in any case.

There is a mid-season break in league action which begins on July 15 and ends on August 20, but there is another competition which takes place during that time: The Leagues Cup, a joint effort involving every team in MLS and Liga MX, Mexico’s first division.

Miami’s Leagues Cup opener against Cruz Azul at DRV PNK Stadium on July 21 was being floated as a potential Messi debut.

Others have suggested that he could be made to wait until the return of the MLS to play his first game for Inter Miami, which would see the home game against Charlotte FC on August 21 as a potential date for the diaries.

Are MLS games available to watch outside the US?

Apple TV is the place to be if you are keen to follow MLS.

The league signed a 10-year broadcast deal with the streaming platform last year, allowing fans around the world to tune into the action.

An Apple TV subscription provides access to the highlights from MLS games, while an Apple TV+ subscription is required to watch the games live (though Apple does make some games available for free).

Of course, in the US, FOX and FS1 have the rights to broadcast a fixed number of games, a similar arrangement to that of TSN in Canada.

Will Messi play in the CONCACAF Champions League?

Now that he has left Europe, Messi looks set to finish his career as the third-highest appearance maker in UEFA Champions League history with 163 behind Iker Casillas (177) and Cristiano Ronaldo (183).

However, he will be hoping to open his account in the North American version of the competition and, to do that, he will have to help Inter Miami qualify for the first time.

In order to make it into the Champions League, or Champions Cup as it will be called from 2024 onwards, they would have to win one of the trophies on offer or win the Eastern Conference.

Six MLS clubs can qualify, but only two can make it directly into the group stage while the other four would go into ’round one’ — effectively a play-off to make it into the group stage.

Here is the breakdown:

Qualification for the group stage

  • 2023 MLS Cup winners
  • 2023 Leagues Cup winners

Qualification for round one

  • 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield winners (Best overall regular season record)
  • 2023 MLS regular season conference winners
  • Two next best clubs in Supporters’ Shield rankings

Can Messi break any goalscoring records?

To have any chance of breaking any goalscoring records in the US, Messi would likely have to be playing well into his 40s.

The all-time leading goalscorer in MLS history is Chris Wondolowski who scored 171 goals in 413 appearances in the division across 16 years between 2005 and 2021.

So, could Messi score the most goals in a single season in the MLS?

He might struggle.

Vela is the current holder of that record and, after scoring 34 goals in the 2019 campaign, it will likely remain for many years to come. Although, in that same season, a 37-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic did score 30 goals for LA Galaxy.

As for the Champions League, he would need to score 25 goals to beat Javier Orozco’s all-time record. The former Mexico striker also holds the record for the most goals scored in a single Champions League season after scoring 11 goals in the 2010-11 campaign.

  • Most MLS goals: 171 – Chris Wondolowski
  • Most MLS goals in a season: 34 – Carlos Vela
  • Most CONCACAF Champions League goals: 24 – Javier Orozco
  • Most CONCACAF Champions League goals in a season: 11 – Javier Orozco

But, hold on, doesn’t the MLS have complicated roster rules?

By Tom Bogert

While the potential deal for Messi to come to Inter Miami and MLS is complex and layered, adding him to the roster is not.

MLS rules provide each club with three designated player (DP) slots in which the club can pay a player whatever they want, but will hit the cap at the senior budget charge ($612,500). Further additions beyond Messi — for “Messi and friends” as folks in league circles have been referring to it for months — are a bit more complicated.

Inter Miami can open a DP spot for Messi with ease, moving midfielder Gregore off the designation. Messi will be Inter Miami’s third DP, alongside Rodolfo Pizarro and Leo Campana. They have no slots left unless Pizarro or Campana were to leave, be sold, or traded within the league.

They can still fit further additions under the salary cap without DP spots. The club acquired $1.6 million in allocation money in an April trade that sent Bryce Duke and Ari Lassiter to CF Montréal, which will be key in flexibility for further additions, though they may need to move out other players on the roster to facilitate. MLS clubs know Inter Miami will be looking to shed salaries if further additions are coming, making departures a bit more difficult.

The club have a one-time buyout they can use where they can remove a player from their roster and his contract from their budget. Sergio Busquets has been linked with Inter Miami for months. Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba have been floated as potential targets this week.

(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)



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