Freedom to Dream — of another Messi World Cup
It’s OK. I want Messi to share his magic on the international stage for another full cycle. He is writing a phenomenal last chapter to his storied career, and I can’t think of a better way for it to end than to have a 40-year-old Messi raising a second World Cup trophy. My love for soccer — and for heroic, romantic, inspiring tales — far exceeds my love for Inter Miami. Messi’s contribution to La Rosanegra and soccer in this nation already far exceeds my expectations; I will not begrudge the rest of the world sharing in the joy this man brings me.
That said, the remarkable run of success Inter Miami has enjoyed with Messi, Tata Martino, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba over the past few weeks has given me hope that Inter Miami will make the MLS Cup Playoffs and will somehow win the title. But, coach Gerardo “Tata” Martinez explained over the weekend, the club mustn’t rely completely on Messi.
“We put a lot of value in this win because (playing with a rotation) is something we need to get used to because Leo is going to join his national team,” Martino said after the Herons beat New York Red Bulls 2-0 Saturday in a match Messi and Busquets started on the bench. “He’ll miss at least three games this year and next year it will be the same, and we need to understand that when he’s not here the team still needs to provide results.”
Martinez started a very young squad at Red Bull Arena, including three South Americans brought in over the summer break, Tomas Aviles, Facundo Farias and Diego Gomez. Gomez got his first MLS goal in the first half and the Herons led 1-0 when Messi and Busquets came in the match at the 60th minute.
In a perfectly pink soccer world, this season would end with the young guys continuing to play with confidence and poise, the Herons finding a smooth rotation, squeaking into the playoffs and winning MLS Cup, and Messi’s Argentina winning its qualifying matches.
But the world in which we actually live is much more gray and constrained by reality. What do I think is realistic for the Herons?
Beating Houston Sept. 27 to win the U.S. Open Cup; a strong finish to the MLS season (playoffs would be a bonus, the MLS Cup a big ol’ cherry on top). Add to that a firm understanding of Martinez’ system and how each player fits into it, coupled with a strong sense of team identity, team purpose and team destiny.
Considering how far we’ve come already in 2023, I think those all are pretty big gains. I’m going to enjoy this year’s journey, but I’m already excited for 2024, when we’ll have a whole season of Messi & Co.