Ross Devonport5 minutes to read
The MLS may not be on the level of the major European leagues, but it is a global star Lionel Messi said he thinks he’s not far behind.
In his first media interview Thursday since joining Inter Miami in July as a free agent, the World Cup winner with Argentina said Major League Soccer is preparing to level up the competition on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I think she has every chance to do it,” Messi told ESPN reporter Luis Miguel Echegaray. “This growth depends a lot on the league. It’s a perfect moment for growth. There are important competitions coming up that will take place in this country [2024 Copa America, 2026 FIFA World Cup].
“It’s time for the league to make that leap and finish growing, finish looking what it’s been looking for for a while. Everything is in place here to watch top-level football because of the country, the structure, a bunch of things.”
The former Barcelona star has been spread out among MLS and Liga MX rivals since leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season en route to Saturday’s League Cup final – scoring nine times in six matches, all of them wins. The growth and quality of sports in the United States did not lose sight of him.
“I think soccer in the United States has grown a lot this past year,” Messi said. “He’s shown that in the results the USMNT has had lately. They’ve been a great team at the World Cup as well. Very competitive. He’s held up against every team he’s had on his roster. He’s getting closer and closer to the level of Mexican football.”
“This league cup showed that. No Mexican team is in the final. While you can wonder about a lot of things, the truth is that all the matches were very close and very competitive. Anyone can beat anyone else. I have a feeling the same thing should happen.” in [MLS]. It is a competition that anyone can win. A place where the home team is strong, away is hard to beat. I’ll continue to learn a little bit of that after my first game.”
Messi’s MLS debut won’t be until August 26, when Inter Miami will resume league action at the New York Red Bulls. Miami has already secured a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions’ Cup by reaching the League Cup final, but Saturday’s victory over Nashville will secure them a first-round bye and their first club trophy.
“It would be amazing for the fans and for the club itself,” Messi said of the prospect of lifting some equipment this weekend. “While it was a big surprise that we were about to play a final for people who don’t see us training every day, we prepared for this. To compete and get this title, because we know we can.
“The team has grown exponentially, especially since then [coach Gerardo Martino’s] arrival, and we are delighted to have achieved our first goal of the CONCACAF Champions Cup qualifiers. Now, we can play a final match.”
And while Messi’s joy on the field is evident, his happiness off the field also plays a big part in his family’s decision to move to South Florida.
“My decision depended on many things,” said Messi. “We thought about it a lot and decided with my family. I came here so I could continue to enjoy football, which is what I have enjoyed all my life, and I chose this place for that reason more than anything else.
“I can say I am very happy, not only because of the results on the field but because of my family, how we live our daily lives. We enjoy the city and the welcome from the fans, which is extraordinary from day one. Not only in Miami but in the United States in general. We had to go to Dallas as a visiting team, and the treatment towards me was amazing. So, I’m grateful for this moment.”
On the opposite note, Messi repeated on Thursday his time in France with Paris Saint-Germain: “My going to Paris Saint-Germain was not planned and I did not want it. I did not want to leave Barcelona.”
Another revelation from Messi – and there was a lot of speculation – is that he will be fine playing on artificial turf once MLS play resumes later this month. Miami is set to play two stadiums – at Atlanta United and Charlotte – in the league’s remaining regular season games.
“I spent my youth on artificial turf, my whole life has been on that field,” Messi said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played on artificial turf, but I have no problem adapting myself again.”
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