Lionel Messi, seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and 2022 World Cup champion, officially announced on Wednesday his move to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF. Messi’s decision ends weeks of speculation on the free agent’s destination following his departure with Paris Saint-Germain.
MLS is obtaining one of, if not the greatest stars to ever play the game, and although Messi isn’t coming to Atlanta, his move will still impact the 5-Stripes and their fans in more ways than one.
Atlanta United has not one, but two upcoming matches scheduled later this year against Inter Miami CF. The Eastern Conference opponents have already faced each other earlier this season in South Florida in May.
The two clubs are in Group South 3 in Leagues Cup 2023, with their match set for Tuesday, July 25 at DRV PNK Stadium. Liga MX’s Cruz Azul rounds out the group, and the top two teams will advance to the knockout round. More information on Leagues Cup 2023 can be found here.
Atlanta will then host Miami for their second MLS matchup in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 16. Ticket prices for the match have already skyrocketed, but more tickets have become available to open the 300 level of the stadium which will go to full capacity for the match.
Messi and Inter Miami have yet to confirm when exactly the 35-year-old would join the team and become an active player on its roster. However, there is still a possibility that Messi could make an appearance in one of or both of these matches against Atlanta.
An Argentine Reunion
Following Argentina’s victory last December, Atlanta’s Thiago Almada became the only active MLS player to have won the World Cup. With Messi’s move to Miami, both of the Argentine attackers now hold that title.
Messi has spoken nothing but good words about Almada, including after the 22-year-old made his senior international debut for the team last September, just months before heading to Qatar for the World Cup. After the friendly against Honduras, Messi praised Almada’s abilities:
“Thiago tiene mucha, mucha frescura. Un jugador muy muy rápido que tiene mucha contra uno que muy picaro que no tiene miedo a nada.”
“Thiago is very fresh. He’s a very fast player who can play 1v1. He's clever and isn’t afraid of anything.”
Then in March, both stars celebrated milestones in a match against Panama. Messi’s free kick in the 78th minute bounced off the post, but Almada was there for the rebound and scored his first goal with the national team. Messi got on the scoresheet 11 minutes later when he earned his 800th career goal (Argentina, PSG and Barcelona).
Needless to say, the duo has a great history and positive relationship that would only be improved by Messi coming to MLS. The two will likely continue making history in the league together.
Back in the USA
While Messi hasn’t played many matches in the United States, he surely remembers the 2016 Copa America semifinals against the USMNT played in Houston's NRG Stadium. Argentina advanced to the finals with a 4-0 win, headlined by Messi’s first half goal and assist.
Messi assisted Ezequiel Lavezzi in just the third minute of the match. Then after earning a free kick about 30 yards out from goal in the 32nd minute, Messi curled the ball into the side netting past the hands of none other than Atlanta’s Brad Guzan. The goal cemented Messi as Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Besides Guzan, other current MLS players were on the USMNT roster for that tournament including New England’s Bobby Wood and Messi’s soon-to-be teammate in Miami, DeAndre Yedlin.
Similarly to that match, Americans, Atlanta United and the rest of MLS are expecting and excited to see the beauty that will be Lionel Messi playing during his time in the league.