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 currently sits in 15th place at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, and with 12 games left in the 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 MLS Cup playoffs.
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.
So far, Messi’s tally is:
Games played: 3
In all, Messi could win three trophies in his debut MLS season:
Leagues Cup: Round of 16; Next game Aug. 6 vs. FC Dallas
U.S. Open Cup: Semifinals; Next game Aug. 23 vs. FC Cincinnati
MLS Cup: 15th place in Eastern Conference (top nine sides qualify for 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.
Aug. 2, Leagues Cup: Inter Miami vs. Orlando City
Another brace for the captain as Miami beat Florida rivals Orlando at home and advanced to Round of 16 of the Leagues Cup tournament.
A nearly two-hour long rain delay didn’t throw off Messi’s rhythm as he scored seven minutes in when he controlled from a pass from Robert Taylor before smashing the ball past goalkeeper Pedro Gallese from six yards out.
Orlando leveled the game before halftime but Miami re-took the lead after a questionable penalty was given to Josef Martínez, who then converted it from the spot and gave his team the lead again.
Messi then put a stamp on the game when he again scored from close range on an assist from Martinez.
The win also saw the Miami debut of defender Jordi Alba, another former Barcelona star alongside Messi and Sergio Busquets. With that trio, Miami concluded its transfer business earlier in the week officially signing three highly-rated youngsters — midfielders Diego Gomez and Facundo Farías and center back Tomás Avilés.
July 25, Leagues Cup: Inter Miami vs. Atlanta United
What a performance for Messi in his first start for Miami. A first-half brace and an assist in an emphatic 4-0 win over Atlanta United, which secured Miami’s spot into the knockout round of the Leagues Cup.
It didn’t take long for Messi to get on the scoreboard. With his former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, lofting a perfect ball over Atlanta’s defense, Messi initially missed his first attempt but put back the rebound from his own shot past keeper Brad Guzan to give Miami an early lead in the eighth minute.
Messi then added another goal on a counterattack in the 22nd minute, pushing Atlanta’s backline and laying the ball off to Robert Taylor, who then cut it back with Messi calmly slotting into the net.
Messi also played a key role in the other two goals — both scored by Taylor. In Miami’s fourth of the night, Messi raced down the pitch to isolate Atlanta’s Ronald Hernandez and teed the ball to Taylor, his left flank, who connected with a low shot past a beleaguered Guzan.
Along with the goals, the celebrities are rolling in for the Messi show. With LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian at the previous game, this game saw even more A-listers in attendance at DRV PNK Stadium — including Sean “Diddy” Combs, DJ Khaled, Rauw Alejandro and Camila Cabello.
July 21, Leagues Cup: Inter Miami vs. Cruz Azul
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.