FORT LAUDERDALE. Here’s what it all led to: Lionel Messi stands 25 yards from the opponent’s goal in the last minute of a draw. He played there in Barcelona, Paris, La Liga, Champions League and World Cups.
Now he was standing on Shopping Boulevard, wearing a pink Inter Miami for the first time, playing something called the League Cup, while the sold-out crowd froze like a museum gallery.
Everyone who wanted from that first game is one Messi moment, right? One magic trick. One pass, one move, one look, one run – maybe one goal if the script broke right to confirm why it’s changing the arc of American football.
Did the script go Hollywood?
Messi wrote the ending with his left foot. He dribbled the ball past a wall of four defenders Cruz Azul, past a bouncing goalkeeper, and into the top left corner of the net.
He then ran to the corner of the field, with teammates chasing after him, as they did in Barcelona and Paris. Maybe the owner of the team also got emotional. After that, David Beckham looked a little teary. And why not?
All the preparation and anticipation of his arrival was pleasant. All the headlines about skyrocketing ticket prices and how it would change football in America were exciting.
It is most important. Sport is a business that is decided on a do-it-or-not basis. Messi did it on his first night with Inter Miami. The fact that he gave Inter Miami a 2-1 victory over Mexican team Cruz Azul was just the backdrop for a bigger story.
He announced his coming to America. He showed that he was going to win, and not just be a famous player. Inter Miami haven’t won 11 games in a row? Is he at the bottom of Major League Soccer? Was it in the League Cup?
“I knew this was the last game and I was hoping to score to avoid a penalty and earn three points as it was a decisive match for us to start the new tournament with a win,” Messi told Apple TV. “It’s important to start this way for confidence in the group, which has been doing very well since I joined.”
This is important to him. That’s the message, and it was clear from the moment he entered the game early in the second half. He didn’t start because his off-season ended with the first practice of the week. This did not stop the noisy crowd from announcing the reason for their coming.
“Messi, Messi,” the fans chanted in the first minute of the game. And the eighth minute. And again 12 minutes later, when Messi’s team-sponsored banner was unfurled over a large portion of the stands in the end zone.
Basically, everyone was waiting for Messi to enter the field in the second half. If you’ve been wondering how much one great player can change the game, this was your evening.
Messi made a pass that DeAndre Yedlin couldn’t convert, and then another that Josef Martinez couldn’t convert. He received a corner kick that almost crashed into the net. He passed, a late pass, and opened up against the keeper before passing to Martinez for an easy goal, but…
He knew it.
He waved his hand to pass the ball faster next time. He coached teammates all Friday. A wave of the hand to Edlin about the spacing. Showing another where he wants the ball. small gestures. Quick lessons.
As time drew to a close when stoppage time began, it looked like the game would not be settled according to the regulations. But when Messi made the pass, he seemed to catch the defender’s forearm in his face.
This gave him a direct hit and the chance everyone wanted. Messi for the win? In stoppage time? Sometimes in sports, the unbelievable becomes believable.
“As soon as I saw the free kick awarded, I thought that this is how it should be to win. Especially when there are players like Leo and Sergio on the field,” Beckham said. “This is such a special night. This is such a moment for this country and this league.”
Sorry for any exaggeration. For the football country it mattered. And only one country. After his goal, after the crowd had dispersed, long after the majority had gone home, Messi entered the field with a few players from Cruz Azul.
They wanted a memory that went beyond losing to the biggest player in the game. They took pictures with him.