Miami Expects Trophies From Messi’s First Full Season in Major League Soccer

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Miami Expects Trophies From Messi’s First Full Season in Major League Soccer

Miami, Florida — 

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami get the new Major League Soccer season under way on Wednesday with pressure on the Argentine star to deliver trophies for his club and more eyeballs on the league.

The World Cup winner joined Inter from Paris Saint Germain in mid-July, the biggest name ever to move to MLS and his signing caused a massive spurt in interest in American soccer.

The eight-times and current Ballon d’Or winner, made an instant impact, leading Miami to the Leagues Cup title, packing stadiums and massively increasing subscriptions to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass broadcast package.

But the excitement waned as the 36-year-old struggled to maintain his fitness in the face of a hectic schedule and Miami were unable to overcome their poor early season results and make the playoffs.

Then Inter’s decision to undertake a grueling overseas pre-season tour backfired with Messi and the team booed in Hong Kong after the star sat out a high-profile friendly due to injury.

Poor performances added to the sense that money-spinning trips to El Salvador, Saudi Arabia and Japan had been a mis-step for a team looking to hit the ground running this season.

A long and busy season awaits for Messi and his team-mates who as well as competing in MLS, have qualified for the regional CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Miami will also aim to defend their Leagues Cup title — against Mexican as well as MLS opposition — and all those challenges come in a summer which will include Argentina’s bid for the Copa America in the USA.

Messi has been joined in Miami by another veteran striker in Uruguayan Luis Suarez, making up a quartet of former Barcelona players with midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba.

Coping with expectation

No MLS team has ever been able to draw on players of such pedigree and experience and with that comes the expectation that they will land the club’s first MLS title.

Messi is well used to such pressure but it is a new sensation for some of the younger players in Gerardo Martino’s squad.

Shanyder Borgelin, the 22-year-old striker who scored in last week’s home friendly against Argentine club Newells Old Boys, says the team can cope with the high expectations.

“That’s expected when you have the greatest player in the world, four of the greatest players in the world, but I think we’re ready,” he told the Miami Herald.

“We are all called up to a big task. I definitely think the [preseason] losses and everything that comes with that made us a lot stronger,” he added.

Miami kick-off their campaign on Wednesday at home to Real Salt Lake with the rest of the league getting under way on Saturday.

Defending champions Columbus Crew start their title defense at home to Atlanta United with their French coach Wilfried Nancy looking to maintain the momentum of a playoff campaign which ended in victory over Los Angles FC.

LAFC, the 2022 MLS Cup winners, host Western Conference rivals the Seattle Sounders in the biggest clash of the opening weekend.

LAFC have lost four regular starters from last season’s team including Italian Giorgio Chiellini, who has retired.

But Steve Cherundolo’s side have added a World Cup winner of their own with France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris joining from Tottenham Hotspur.

Top-scorer Denis Bouanga remains with the club despite reports he could head back to France but the future of the team’s talismanic Mexican forward Carlos Vela remains unclear.

The 34-year-old Vela is a free agent after his contract with the club was not yet renewed.

There are some new faces on the bench with former Aston Villa manager Dean Smith taking charge at Charlotte and Phil Neville, the former Manchester United player and ex-Inter Miami boss now at the Portland Timbers.

The opening games are set to be officiated by replacement referees after talks over a new collective deal between the refs union and the league’s Professional Referees.

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