The shouts about Major League Soccer at large from other parts of the sports world get repetitive. Stating it’s a retirement league was always a jaded view. Perhaps it was the league with the most publicity that was willing to take big names past their prime. And while a lack of promotion and relegation isn’t in line with most of the rest of the soccer world, the MLS’ values of free agency, a yearly draft, and how it expanded domestically aligned with Americana, and that was always crucial to the short-term development of the league. Lionel Messi’s introduction into the MLS has only proven those outside complaints about the MLS were claptrap. If one of the greatest of all time can thrive in the league, how do any of those criticisms hold any weight?
Most of Messi’s career is behind him, sure. Inter Miami would get shellacked by Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain, of course. The Argentine legend would’ve made more money to join old buddy Cristiano Ronaldo in playing for a Saudi Arabian club. (Editor’s note: At least Florida doesn’t have a state income tax.) Messi’s love for the game and investing in his family’s future brought the 36-year-old stateside. And while he’s got five years max left as a professional (at least you would think), Messi’s start at Inter Miami proves he’s still got it, as if any of us ever doubted he lost a step. He’s not overpowering lesser talent in the MLS more so than he’s doing it in any league. Messi is just straight-up better than 99 percent of professional soccer players, still at what should be the stretch run of his career.
Messi’s first two games wearing the Miami pink have come under the Leagues Cup banner, as will every game for the global star until MLS’ regular season resumes on Aug. 20. The MLS-Liga MX merger puts further credence behind Messi dominating the world over, as his first two games for Inter Miami have come against teams from two different leagues. It started with a 2-1 win over Mexico’s Cruz Azul last Friday, with Messi himself scoring the game-winner on a free kick in stoppage time to secure the victory. That was followed up by a two-goal, one-assist performance against Atlanta United.
And for those of you who still doubt Messi’s early performances in MLS, you’ll never be convinced it was the right move for his career. Playing in the top level of American domestic soccer isn’t close to the quality of Europe’s top leagues. No one worth their salt would tell you that. However, as other big names have moved to MLS over the years, like David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimović, their beginnings were exciting and drew viewership to the league, but it fizzled out quicker than the LA Galaxy want to admit either time. Messi’s start in Miami has captured mainstream attention in the same vein. This time around, something is different. It’s hard not to get excited that this might be the norm for the MLS now. Messi is the league’s biggest star and his influence of former teammates wanting a reunion in South Beach could be the spark that dispels the MLS from all those outdated stigmas for good.
This isn’t like guardian Michael Jordan during his return to the NBA with the Wizards, or Tom Brady’s last joyride in Tampa Bay. Both of them were never their league’s best player during those final efforts, and a little older than Messi for one final cash-in. The game has already passed Brady and Jordan by, forcing retirement’s hand. That conversation when it comes to Messi’s long-term future has proven to be years away, if it’s ever necessary. We’re two games into Messi-run MLS, and it’s already made the league better.