Whether you call it "football" or "soccer," it's a known fact to fans of the beautiful game around the world that Lionel Messi, one of the most formidable to ever set foot on field, has made a decision on his next big transfer move. Messi has opted, instead of a rumored return to his beloved former La Liga club FC Barcelona or a possibly tempting ($1.6 billion) transfer to Saudi Pro League club Al-Hilal SC, to embark on his next journey in the U.S. with Major League Soccer club Inter Miami CF.
Messi's Move Follows a String of Other Big-Name Transfers
This transfer is coupled with many other renowned footballers moving their careers away from Europe as well, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and many others. These don't simply come with the skills a player has to offer, but their image as people. This has resulted in rapid popularity growth within leagues which are able to secure the signing of high-profile footballers, such as the Saudi Pro League, going from little-known to instantly recognizable after signing key names. However, can the same be said about MLS and U.S. soccer as a result of Messi's move?
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Messi To Inter Miami: What Does It Follow In Terms of U.S. Soccer?
The arrival of world-class soccer players to the MLS is no contemporary event. After all, U.S. soccer has grown substantially in the past decades, both in viewership and youth participation. The moves of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, and Giorgio Chiellini are just a few that exemplify the increased attractiveness of participating in U.S. soccer from the professional perspective.
The MLS and soccer itself in the U.S. have grown immensely prior to Messi's move; that is the fact of the matter. However, Messi's move could accelerate this process and spur the mass popularization of the sport in the U.S., for many reasons.
Lionel Messi confirms that he is joining Inter Miami 🌴 pic.twitter.com/wLWsVBAFlD— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 7, 2023
Inter Miami's Immediate Growth
The possible growth of U.S. soccer may derive indication from the mere growth of Inter Miami alone since the announcement of Messi's move to the club. The move attracted new fans to the club and resulted in a social media follower increase to currently over 8 million. The immediate rise of ticket prices for Inter Miami games has also been a topic of great talk, rising to over $1000 for Messi's expected debut game against Mexican club Cruz Azul, and tripling in price when comparing pre-Messi fixtures.
Inter Miami are targeting a Messi debut on July 21 in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul, according to club owner Jorge Mas 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/zNoDlYt6u1— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 20, 2023
A History of Star-Studded Growth
Soccer growth in the U.S. can be seen from the arrival of previous stars. This includes the arrival of a three-time World Cup winner and the individual often called the greatest to ever play the game, Pelé, to the New York Cosmos in the NASL in 1975, a now shutdown U.S. professional soccer league that helped lay the foundations for the growth of domestic U.S. soccer. Youth participation and viewership alike in the 1970s skyrocketed in the United States; attention to the sport had been the greatest since their 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup.
Pelé's move also brought forth the arrival of many other international stars dabbing in U.S. soccer, one example being Johan Cruyff. Though growth slowed down in the 1980s, the game was still very much loved around the U.S., so much so that the nation was able to host the 1994 World Cup. Messi's move may do the same for U.S. soccer once again, and stir newfound passion for the game in young Americans who see the star playing in their own country's league.
From Wikimedia Commons
Soccer still falls behind America's big four sports: football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. However, Messi, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, is recognizable to the average American as the biggest name in soccer, whether it be from knowing the game itself or having been mentioned by some celebrity. Having one of these huge figures planting their foot on the U.S. soccer space may cause interest to arise in the general American population.
The Quality Question
Another aspect of Messi's move that may pique interest will be a matter of "Messi magic": how will Messi fare amongst top-level MLS players? How will his quality as a player built over years upon years rival that of domestic soccer quality? What differences can be seen in Messi's skill and that which he is up against?
The presence of Messi's skill alone may prompt the development of quality soccer in the U.S. and investment in the sport. Such a grand individual will be a chance to compare and contrast what the U.S. has and lacks in terms of soccer, and contrive what is needed from the American public. How Messi does in U.S. soccer will likely impact how the sport is impacted in the nation for years to come, and how much he intends to help in the objective of growing the game itself will also factor in.
From Wikimedia Commons
Messi's impact on U.S. soccer will be more than notable. An individual of his level within his sport arriving in the U.S., already an internationally recognizable sports figure, will bring forth the attention the sport needs in order to grow further than it's managed. It will rely on how Lionel Messi's image is used and how he contributes to the growth of the beautiful, beautiful game.