'Messi Effect' Takes Hold in Miami
Since joining Inter Miami last month, Lionel Messi has sparked an unprecedented wave of excitement and anticipation in Major League Soccer (MLS). The Argentine superstar's presence has ignited the enthusiasm not only of Inter Miami fans but also of the entire US professional soccer community, particularly among the city's large South American population.
Inter Miami's regular season games have been consistently sold out, leading to the construction of new stands to expand the stadium's capacity. The atmosphere surrounding the team is electric. It can all be attributed to what has become known as the "Messi effect” and takes hold in Miami air.
When Messi's plane landed near his future stadium, enthusiastic fans were waiting at the airport to welcome the World Cup champion. Signs with the words "We were waiting for you, Messi-ah" greeted him, while chants of his name echoed through the air. Even those who didn't catch a glimpse of the 36-year-old idol were thrilled to be part of the memorable moment.
One fan, Ariel Gonzalez, expressed his excitement, stating, "I feel very good because I know that if I don't see him now, I'll see him in an hour, next week, or in 10 days. We're always here fully with him."
Messi's move to Inter Miami surprised many, despite the club's prior hints of negotiations. There were other contenders for his signature, including clubs in Saudi Arabia, and the possibility of a return to his longtime club, FC Barcelona, was also speculated. Now, Inter Miami supporters eagerly await Messi's grand debut, which is expected to take place on July 21 at the Leagues Cup, featuring teams from the US, Canada, and Mexico.
For Raul Patino, an Argentine who has been living in Florida for over two decades, Messi's arrival represents a transformative moment in the history of US soccer. He believes that Messi's influence will inspire a new generation of players, saying, "In 10 years, when you ask a teenager what he wants to play, he's going to say soccer. And he'll do it because Messi is going to impact the lives of all those kids."
Even before stepping onto the pitch, Messi has already made a significant economic impact on American soccer. Tickets for his potential debut match against Mexico's Cruz Azul have skyrocketed on resale platforms, with the cheapest tickets increasing from $29 to $329—a ten-fold mark-up. Furthermore, Inter Miami has made additional high-profile signings, including former Argentina coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino and Sergio Busquets, a former teammate of Messi's at Barcelona.
The Messi craze has permeated Miami's vibrant artsy neighborhood, Wynwood, where a massive mural of the Argentine maestro is being painted by fellow countryman Maximiliano Bagnasco. Bagnasco diligently works on the mural each morning, shielded from the scorching sun by an umbrella. The artwork captures Messi's smiling face, with the artist currently focusing on replicating the player's physique in Inter Miami's team colors.
Juan Tavoas, a tourist from Buenos Aires, marvels at the frenzy surrounding Messi in Miami, stating, "It's a bit crazy what Messi means to us as Argentines. Now he is moving here to Miami. In every business, there are Messi T-shirts. Everything is Messi, Messi, Messi. This looks like Buenos Aires or Rosario."
While the "Messi mania" in Miami is already in full swing, it appears that the true impact and excitement are only just beginning. As Inter Miami fans eagerly await Messi's debut, the city's soccer scene is set to reach new heights with the presence of one of the greatest players of all time.