The last time we saw Lionel Messi take on an MLS team in South Florida, the atmosphere at Inter Miami was noticeably happier.
The club had organized a friendly on November 10 against New York City FC to celebrate Messi’s eighth Ballon d’Or victory, calling it ‘Noche d’Or’ and putting an end to what had been a promising 2023 for the club. equipment.
But when the reigning Leagues Cup champions returned to DRV PNK Stadium last week for a final tune-up against Newell’s Old Boys, it was hard not to feel like some of the shine had worn off, ahead of the club’s first MLS match on Wednesday. .
Miami’s preseason was hectic at best and a disaster at worst.
Ignoring the results, which included just one win in seven games, there was a calamity of bad press as Miami cashed in with a trip that took them to El Salvador, Dallas, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Japan.
Lionel Messi said he was “a little tired” and wanted to “come home” from the long tour of Miami
He was in better spirits when he faced his former club, Newell’s Old Boys, last week.
Messi posed with the Ballon d’Or trophy, his eighth, before a friendly in Miami in November.
The tour attracted unwanted attention only in the second game against FC Dallas, when Messi and his teammates took the field. in front of a practically empty Cotton Bowl that was only a third of its capacity.
From there, Messi injured his adductor muscle, angered the Hong Kong government and fans when he didn’t attend a friendly there, and admitted he was “a little tired from this whole tour” before Miami faced Vissel. Kobe.
The number 10 also played just seven minutes in the 6-0 rout at the hands of Al-Nassr, which was without Cristiano Ronaldo, while Sergio Busquets was withdrawn due to an injury scare against Vissel Kobe.
All this is to say: The happier days of Messi lifting the League Cup over the summer feel distant, as does the innocence of his family trip to the Publix supermarket chain shortly after arriving in the United States.
Most importantly, though, Messi is still Messi, and there are even higher expectations for these star-studded Herons after the addition of Luis Suarez. Any team with those names will at least be in contention for their league title.
Luis Suárez (right) has teamed up with Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets (LR) in Miami
Messi and Inter Miami lifted the Leagues Cup during the summer, beating Nashville SC
The first full season of Miami’s ‘Big 4’ begins tonight, at home against Real Salt Lake, and Suarez won’t be the only new face.
Veteran Julian Gressel joined after winning the league with the Columbus Crew, while Yannick Bright was also added in the first round of the draft.
Meanwhile, defender Kamal Miller has departed after posting the team’s fourth-most league minutes last season, while Josef Martínez and his seven goals have also departed.
The club will also be without midfielder Facundo Farías after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason, while the highly-rated Benjamín Cremaschi, 18, will miss two or three months due to a sports hernia, according to the team.
Therefore, there will be many pieces that coach Tata Martino will be able to mix and match as he aims to get the most out of a team whose best players are 34 years old or older.
The positive news for Martino is that his two best (and oldest) attackers are still pretty good despite the mileage they have.
Messi, who wasted no time opening his account in Miami with a stunning free kick against Cruz Azul, scored 11 goals in 14 appearances in all competitions after arriving in July.
Messi and Suárez will hope to channel the connection from their days in Barcelona
Suárez arrived in Miami after starring for Gremio in the Brazilian league, scoring 17 goals.
And Suárez, 37, crispy legs and all, had 17 goals and 11 assists in the Brazilian league last season for Gremio.
Alba also remains a threat bombing up and down the left, while Busquets is surely one of the best passers in the league, even if his severe lack of pace sometimes cripples him.
The concern for those four, and for Miami in general, is not winning a final or achieving good in an important game.
It’s staying healthy and cool enough to get there.
Miami could play 60 games this season and the team will play in four different competitions. What will it be like when Messi inevitably rests, as Martino already planned?
The results were disappointing in the six MLS games that Messi missed last season after his arrival, as Miami won just once, drew three and lost two. And Suarez, who has dealt with repeated knee problems, hasn’t been the most durable of late either.
The Herons were not eliminated in any of those six games without Messi, perhaps surprisingly, although they failed to get more than one goal behind in half of them.
It was their defense that let them down in 5-2 and 4-1 losses to Atlanta United and Chicago Fire respectively.
Young players like defender Tomás Avilés hope to make life easier for Messi
Getting a full season from Tomás Avilés, a reported $9 million arrival last summer, and newly signed Pumas loanee Nicolás Freire should help in that department. A full preseason with Martino should also be beneficial.
Miami’s aging core is surrounded by some decent young talent, and the team’s top brass deserves credit for reshaping its roster over the past year.
Make no mistake about it, though: just like the new Apple TV MLS Season Pass Announcement revolves around Messi, so do Miami’s prospects this season.
He is playing alongside his best friends, for a coach he respects and, most importantly, in good health. according to reports since the eve of the start of the season.
Both Miami and MLS need Messi to explode, and the 36-year-old will soon show what kind of spark he has left.