In arguably the biggest sports deal in American history, Lionel Messi's move to Major League Soccer is seismic for the sport's growth in the U.S. The superstar has won LaLiga, Ligue 1, the Champions League and the World Cup. Now, he faces a new challenge with Inter Miami.
Miami currently sits in 15th place at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, and with 12 games left in the regular season, Miami must reach ninth place to have a chance to reach the playoffs. If Miami gets to ninth, it will play the eighth-place team in a wild-card match to qualify for Round 1 of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Luckily for Messi, there is a pause in the regular season for the Leagues Cup, a monthlong competition between all MLS and Liga MX sides (47 teams total) that runs from July 21 to Aug. 19. Miami's MLS season will then pick back up against Charlotte FC, and Miami also plays in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup against FC Cincinnati on Aug. 23.
So far, Messi's tally is:
Games played: 6
In all, Messi could win three trophies in his debut MLS season:
Leagues Cup: Final; next game Aug. 19 vs. Nashville SC
U.S. Open Cup: Semifinals; next game Aug. 23 vs. FC Cincinnati
MLS Cup: 15th place in Eastern Conference (top nine sides qualify for playoffs); next game Aug. 26 vs Charlotte FC
Check in here as ESPN tracks all of Messi's appearances for Inter Miami and provides instant analysis and reaction.
Aug. 15, Leagues Cup semifinal: Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami
Not even a month has passed since Messi joined Miami and he already has nine goals in six games. And he now he has the team on the cusp of silverware.
Inter Miami's 4-1 win on the road over the Philadelphia Union sealed a spot in the Leagues Cup final, as well as a berth in next year's Concacaf Champions Cup. Mind you, this is the same club that remains in last place of the MLS regular-season standings.
The trip to face a defensively stout Philly team (usually) was meant to be Messi's toughest test yet, but a quick goal by Josef Martínez in the third minute put Miami in the driver's seat for the rest of evening. It was then Messi who doubled the lead in the 20th minute when he found a soft spot in the Union's midfield and fired a low bouncing shot from 30 yards out past keeper Andre Blake.
With Jordi Alba's goal right before halftime, Miami was able to withstand a second-half surge from Philly that saw Alejandro Bedoya pull one back in the 73rd minute. Miami youngster David Ruiz then padded the lead with a goal in the final minutes to seal the win.
And talk about a Messi effect: Miami has scored at least four goals in four of its six Leagues Cup games (including three straight). Miami entered the Leagues Cup having scored at least four goals in just three of its 122 games played across all competitions.
Aug. 11, Leagues Cup quarterfinal: Inter Miami vs. Charlotte FC
Congrats, Charlotte! Y'all kept Messi from scoring until the final moments of the game. The bad news? Miami were already ahead by a wide margin and then comfortably won 4-0, booking a spot into the Leagues Cup semifinals.
It took Miami fans by surprise that see Josef Martínez line up for a penalty shot in the 12th minute instead of Messi, but the Venezuelan made no question with a strike to the bottom corner of the net.
And how about Robert Taylor? He has really blossomed since Messi's arrival last month. He doubled Miami's lead in the 32nd minute connecting on DeAndre Yedlin's pass at the top of the 18-yard box. The 28-year-old Finland international now has four goals and four assists (plus one own goal) in five Leagues Cup games.
Charlotte defender Adilson Malanda padded Miami's lead with an own goal in the 78th minute and Miami was on cruise control before Messi finally got on the scoreboard, slotting the ball into the net from Leonardo Campana's nifty cross.
With eight goals now, Messi once again is tied with Martínez for the team lead this season. Martínez has played 25 games to Messi's five.
Miami can now look toward tough road trip to Philadelphia next week for a spot in the final. And Charlotte can take solace in that it'll host Messi on Aug. 26 -- which will technically be Messi's actual MLS debut match.
Aug. 6, Leagues Cup round of 16: FC Dallas vs. Inter Miami
In the stifling Texas heat where the temperatures hovered above 100 degrees at kickoff, Messi's hot start with Miami continued with two more goals in a wild win over FC Dallas that ended 4-4 before being decided by penalties.
In his first away game with Miami, Messi initially made it look easy when he hit a rocket shot in the sixth minute to put his side up early.
What then ensued was a back-and-forth game that provided plenty of fireworks at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. With 10 minutes left in regulation and Miami down 4-2 after Robert Taylor's own goal, Dallas defender Marco Farfan returned the favor when he headed the ball into his own net -- off a Messi corner kick.
Down by a goal with five minutes to go, it was then time for another moment for a Messi highlight reel. The Argentina superstar scored his second of the night on an incredible free kick that curled into the top corner to tie the game.
Going into penalties to decide who'd advance to the Leagues Cup quarterfinal, Messi converted his attempt and Benjamin Cremaschi (who scored Miami's third in regulation) then sealed the victory with his successful strike from the spot.
Messi has now scored multiple goals in three straight matches for club or country for the first time since April-May 2015, when he was still with Barcelona.
Aug. 2, Leagues Cup round of 32: Inter Miami vs. Orlando City
Another brace for the captain as Miami beat Florida rivals Orlando at home and advanced to Round of 16 of the Leagues Cup tournament.
A nearly two-hour long rain delay didn't throw off Messi's rhythm as he scored seven minutes in when he controlled from a pass from Robert Taylor before smashing the ball past goalkeeper Pedro Gallese from six yards out.
Orlando leveled the game before halftime but Miami re-took the lead after a questionable penalty was given to Josef Martínez, who then converted it from the spot and gave his team the lead again.
Messi then put a stamp on the game when he again scored from close range on an assist from Martinez.
The win also saw the Miami debut of defender Jordi Alba, another former Barcelona star alongside Messi and Sergio Busquets. With that trio, Miami concluded its transfer business earlier in the week officially signing three highly-rated youngsters -- midfielders Diego Gomez and Facundo Farías and center back Tomás Avilés.
July 25, Leagues Cup group stage: Inter Miami vs. Atlanta United
What a performance for Messi in his first start for Miami. A first-half brace and an assist in an emphatic 4-0 win over Atlanta United, which secured Miami's spot into the knockout round of the Leagues Cup.
It didn't take long for Messi to get on the scoreboard. With his former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, lofting a perfect ball over Atlanta's defense, Messi initially missed his first attempt but put back the rebound from his own shot past keeper Brad Guzan to give Miami an early lead in the eighth minute.
Messi then added another goal on a counterattack in the 22nd minute, pushing Atlanta's backline and laying the ball off to Robert Taylor, who then cut it back with Messi calmly slotting into the net.
Messi also played a key role in the other two goals -- both scored by Taylor. In Miami's fourth of the night, Messi raced down the pitch to isolate Atlanta's Ronald Hernandez and teed the ball to Taylor, his left flank, who connected with a low shot past a beleaguered Guzan.
Along with the goals, the celebrities are rolling in for the Messi show. With LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian at the previous game, this game saw even more A-listers in attendance at DRV PNK Stadium -- including Sean "Diddy" Combs, DJ Khaled, Rauw Alejandro and Camila Cabello.
July 21, Leagues Cup group stage: Inter Miami vs. Cruz Azul
Messi made his long-awaited debut for Miami in the 54th minute, with his new club winning 1-0 early in the second half. However it wouldn't take long for the Liga MX team to get back into the game, with Uriel Antuna thumping a low shot beyond Drake Callender after some lax defending gave him room to shoot.
In the final minutes, Messi thought he'd beaten the offside trap and set up Josef Martinez for a simple, open goal tap-in but was judged late on to have been behind the final defender.
Then in the 93rd minute, Messi was fouled by midfielder Jesus Duenas, giving him a chance to win the game with a free-kick. And, in typical Messi fashion, he curled it beyond Andres Gudino with his left foot, into the top corner, to give Inter Miami a 2-1 win in their Leagues Cup opener at DRV PNK Stadium.