Lionel Messi will take his must-see show to the West Coast as visiting Inter Miami take on defending MLS champion Los Angeles FC on Sunday night.
The matchup pits the two most recent teams to receive MLS-affiliated trophies, with Inter Miami winning the inaugural Leagues Cup last month after Messi's dynamic introduction to his new club.
LAFC (11-7-7, 40 points), the second-place team in the Western Conference, enter off a 2-1 defeat at Charlotte FC on Saturday. LAFC tied the game midway through the second half on a goal by Mario Gonzalez before the defense surrendered the go-ahead score in the 75th minute.
With Messi coming to town, LAFC coaches and players are intent on keeping the focus on the match and not on an individual opponent. LAFC star forward Carlos Vela does not feel any added inspiration with Messi as the team's opponent on Sunday.
"The truth is that for me to be able to play, to be healthy, to be available for my team, is my motivation," said Vela, whose nine goals are second on the club to Denis Bouanga (12). "And to be able to go every weekend, to every game, to show that I am a good player. ... We focus on our job, how to do things right to win and not who we are playing against."
Said LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo: "For us, it's another home game that we want to win. I think it's a mistake to focus on one player, he's not the only one scoring and making a difference."
Inter Miami (6-14-4, 22 points) are unbeaten across all competitions since Messi's arrival, winning seven matches in Leagues Cup play, with two of those on penalties, including the final on Aug. 19 against Nashville SC. The Herons have subsequently won a U.S. Open Cup match and have gone 1-0-1 in MLS regular-season play.
The run of 10 consecutive unbeaten matches is an Inter Miami record.
Messi has 11 goals and six assists in an Inter Miami uniform, but the team was held without a goal in a scoreless tie against Nashville SC on Wednesday. Nashville's defense clogged the penalty area to some surprise success.
"In the first half, the ball was moving too slowly; in the second I think we did a little better, but it was hard for us," Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said. "These games usually happen, I understand everyone's frustration. We too felt it was a good night to continue gaining ground."
In two prior matches against LAFC, Inter Miami has not scored a goal. Miami played its first ever MLS match at LAFC in 2020 and lost 1-0. Inter Miami absorbed a 2-0 home defeat to LAFC last season.
—Field Level Media