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Messi in Miami


Lionel Messi is the greatest living soccer player. He might be the best ever to have played the world’s most popular game. In 2022, he led Argentina to its first World Cup win in nearly four decades. And on July 21, 2023, he made his Major League Soccer (MLS) debut—for the last-place U.S. team, Inter Miami.

In the final seconds of that game, Messi was awarded a free kick. He placed the ball on the grass. Celebrities were in the crowd that night, but no eyes were on them. Messi kicked the ball. The shot curled around a wall of the other team’s players. It sailed past the arms of the diving goalkeeper and into the net. Game over! Inter Miami had won.

SPECIAL MOMENT Messi celebrates after his game-winning goal for Inter Miami on July 21, 2023.


More than 20,000 fans were there. Millions more were watching around the world. The moment moved Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham to tears. “You couldn’t have written it better,” he told TIME. “It was for MLS, and for America. It was for the future of the game.”

Journey to America

Last spring, Messi finished the 2022–23 season in France, for Paris Saint-Germain. As his contract with that team neared its end, fans wondered where he’d go next. Would he return to Barcelona and rejoin the team that signed him when he was a 13-year-old soccer phenom phenom short for phenomenon, a person of unusual talent (noun) My 12-year-old sister is a piano phenom. ? Would he join other global soccer superstars in a new league in Saudi Arabia?

A STEP AHEAD Lionel Messi controls the ball in a game against Orlando City SC in August 2023.


It was a tough call. “I had several options on the table that were interesting,” he says. “I had to analyze them and think, even weigh them up with my family, before making the final decision.”

Messi shocked the globe by announcing in June 2023 that he would sign with Inter Miami. At 36, two decades into his career, he gave soccer in America a big boost (see “Soccer Nation”). Attendance, ticket prices, merchandise sales, and viewership soared.

BIG CHEER Fans at an Inter Miami game in August 2023 hold up a Messi Argentina jersey.


American audiences are eager to see Messi play, whether live or on TV. On the day of his Inter Miami debut, Apple had more than 100,000 new sign-ups for its MLS Season Pass subscription service. According to the analytics company Antenna, this was the largest-ever single-day spike. And attendance at Inter Miami’s home games jumped 40%, the sharpest increase in the league.

Looking Ahead

Inter Miami did not make last season’s MLS playoffs. The team was too far behind before Messi arrived. Even so, the Messi effect is at its peak.

TRIUMPH Messi raises the 2022 World Cup trophy after winning the final match.


The U.S. is a host of the 2026 World Cup. The U.S. team was already considered to be a strong contender contender a competitor for a title or championship (noun) Jacky was a contender for the tennis playoffs. . With the attention Messi has brought to the sport, America should do well against the world’s best for decades to come. “This is one of those big tipping moments,” says Dan Hunt, president of the MLS team FC Dallas. “Our player pool from [ages] 17 to 35 is the greatest player pool we’ve ever had in the history of U.S. soccer. If you think about our player pool from [ages] 0 to 16, it’s going to be twice as good, because we have Messi inspiring them.”

Soccer Nation


The U.S. is the world’s most profitable sports market. For some reason, it had never fully embraced the “beautiful game” of soccer. But recently, the sport has seen big growth. With the U.S. hosting three major international tournaments in the next three years, soccer is sure to attract even more fans of all ages. And with Miami’s acquisition of Messi, one of the most famous athletes on the planet, the U.S. is now a soccer nation—a fútbol nation.