Lionel Messi debut, MLS schedule with Inter Miami: Cruz Azul unimpressed with legend’s arrival

Argentina vs France World Cup Final
Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Argentina and Croatia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi, is set to make his Major League Soccer debut for Inter Miami FC on July 21 at 8 p.m. EST against Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup.

Date Time (ET) Opponent TV
Saturday, July 15 8:30 p.m. St. Louis City SC Apple TV – MLS Season Pass
Friday, July 21 8:00 p.m. Cruz Azul Apple TV – MLS Season Pass, Univision
Tuesday, July 25 7:30 p.m. Atlanta United FC Apple TV – MLS Season Pass

The 36-year-old Argentinian superstar is one of the most renowned and talented athletes that the game has ever seen — providing a monumental flashpoint for domestic soccer in the United States. Starting his career at FC Barcelona in Spain, the forward played 17 years from 2004-21. It was there that he accumulated an immense amount of silverware and accolades winning the UEFA Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, and La Liga titles.

During his time at Barcelona, Messi recorded 672 goals and 266 assists in 778 games that included all competitions.

His tenure came to an unceremonious end in August of 2021 after Barcelona announced that they would let him go due to immense debt that withheld the club from paying future wages.

“This year I wanted to stay. I did everything possible but the club couldn’t do it because of La Liga…We have to take it and move forward.” (h/t The Athletic)

Not being able to play for Barcelona, Messi decided to take his talents to Ligue 1 to play for Paris Saint-Germain. There he would play with the likes of Kylian Mbappé and former Barcelona teammate, Neymar Jr. under a two-year contract.

While there was the hope that Messi would help deliver the club’s first-ever Champions League title, he was unable to reach that mountaintop in France.

In his first season with PSG, injuries and emotions coming off his transfer from Barcelona led to a subpar performance, recording just 11 goals and 14 assists. 

PSG would take home the 2021-22 Ligue 1 title but ultimately fell short in the Champions League, losing to Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in the Round of 16.

Last season, Messi’s statline improved to 21 goals and 20 assists in 41 appearances with PSG taking home their 11th Ligue 1 title, but once again fell short in the Champions League Round of 16, this time to Bayern Munich.

In between it all, the talismanic playmaker achieved his greatest accomplishment of a storied career as he led Argentina to its third-ever World Cup crown and the first of his career.

To do so, he had to go through France and his PSG teammate, Mbappe, in quite possibly one of the best World Cup Finals ever. Mbappe scored a hat-trick to take the game to penalties before Messi — who scored twice — and Argentina ultimately came out on top winning 4-2 in penalties.

Lionel Messi Inter Miami MLS
Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Argentina and Croatia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Messi’s contract would come to an end during the summer of 2023, but there were questions about whether he will renew his PSG contract. With the Parisian fans turning on Messi for his subpar performance and the team suspending him after his sponsorship trip to Saudi Arabia, the free agent confirmed his departure from PSG after the 2022-23 season.

“I wanted to come back, but at the same time with the way I left the club, I did not want to find myself in the same situation, which was waiting for whatever can happen and leave my future to someone else’s hands.” (h/t The Athletic)

Many of his admirers were hoping Messi would return to Barcelona for ‘one last dance’ or re-create his famed rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League but were shocked when he announced that he would be transferring to Major League Soccer.

“After winning the World Cup and not being able to return to Barcelona, it was my turn to go to the league of the United States to live football in another way,” he said (h/t Chicago Sun-Times).

Messi decided to sign a two-and-a-half-year contract where he would earn 50-60 million dollars per year at Inter Miami FC.

The phrase “Messi Effect” was surfacing upon his announcement of transferring to MLS.

According to CBS News, ticket prices for Inter Miami matches soared by more than 1,000%.

But the arrival of a legend isn’t being met with absolute fanfare — especially by the Cruz Azul team that is expected to line up against him in his debut.

“As long as he has two legs and two eyes, he’s just another player,” Cruz Azul midfielder Erik Lira said (h/t Sportskeeda). “It’s a unique opportunity. It’s a new tournament, we have to fight for it…

“But the truth is it’s just another game for us, [Cruz Azul manager] Tuca Ferretti tells us that Messi is just another player — obviously he’s a bit imposing, but we’re going to win.”

For more on Lionel Messi, visit AMNY.com