Postponing Lionel Messi’s MLS Opener Isn’t a Big Deal

Due to the scheduling of Leagues Cup matches, Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi won’t make his scheduled Major League Soccer debut later this month. But, that’s not something to get worked up over.
By helping Inter Miami progress in the Leagues Cup, Lionel Messi's "debut" in Major League Soccer play has been postponed.
By helping Inter Miami progress in the Leagues Cup, Lionel Messi's "debut" in Major League Soccer play has been postponed. / Alex Bierens de Haan/GettyImages

Under normal circumstances, Lionel Messi’s first Major League Soccer match for Inter Miami would be billed as a pretty big deal.

Now, people will have to wait a bit longer for it to actually happen.

I’ll tell you why this isn’t as big a deal as many might lead you to believe.

Let’s get into it.

The Lionel Messi Debut We’ve Been Waiting For

If you’ve been following along, you know that former Barcelona and Paris-St. Germain talisman Lionel Messi made his debut with Inter Miami in the second half of the team’s opening group match of the 2023 Leagues Cup.

You also know he came on and buried a goal to give the Herons a huge win.

Messi followed that up with a brace in a win over a hapless Atlanta United — again, in Leagues Cup play.

That moved Inter Miami into the knockout stages of the tournament, where they first took care of in-state rival, Orlando City.

Perhaps the best (or worst) showing for Inter Miami came a few days later when Messi notched another brace in a penalty shootout win at FC Dallas to keep advancing in the tournament.

On a side note: Who could have imagined the cellar-dwelling Herons would be a strong favorite to win a tournament that featured every MLS and Liga MX side? Just sayin’.

That puts Charlotte FC in the crosshairs of Inter Miami on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup.

However, the success of Inter Miami and the MLS scheduling gods have thrown a wrench in Messi’s debut in actual MLS play.

Pushing Back Inter Miami’s Return to MLS

Call it the curse of success, or whatever you want.

Inter Miami’s march through the League’s Cup has thrown a curveball into the return of Major League Soccer play, slated for August 20.

Because the Herons are in the quarterfinals, the league has changed the date of Inter Miami’s return to league play.

Because both Inter Miami and Charlotte FC play on Friday, the league determined the turnaround to play again on August 20 was too soon, so it pushed Messi’s “debut” in Major League Soccer play back.

The fact that the winner of the match will advance to the semifinals of the Leagues Cup meant the winner will play on August 19. A day turnaround to re-enter league play is just too much.

Makes perfect sense.

It likely means Messi will actually make his league “debut” at New York Red Bulls on August 26. Of course, we can’t forget about the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at FC Cincinnati on August 23.

He may play in one, both or neither of those matches, depending on his fitness, if he wants to and if Inter Miami manager Tata Martino believes it best to rest him.

Inter Miami’s Postponement Really Isn’t a Big Deal

While fans in Charlotte may be a bit upset about this, there’s no reason why Inter Miami fans should be.

After all, we’ve been able to see four — soon to be five — matches with Messi already.

Let’s also keep in mind that four of those five matches have been against MLS sides… including the team he was originally supposed to make his debut.

Kamal Miller, Diego Gomez
Inter Miami's Kamal Miller and Diego Gomez celebrate Inter Miami's win over FC Dallas in the 2023 Leagues Cup. / Alex Bierens de Haan/GettyImages

Truth be told, I’m kind of glad this isn’t happening.

I mean, there are already rumblings about Charlotte FC not laying natural grass over their artificial turf pitch at Bank of America Stadium, which could be problematic as Messi isn’t the biggest fan of playing on turf.

Really though, Messi has already made his debut for Inter Miami, in a big way. Seven goals in four appearances and helping to lead last-place Inter Miami just a few wins away from their first hardware in team history.

I’m not suggesting the MLS matches don’t count because they certainly do. What better way to continue this massive introduction of the best player in the world to the league than for Inter Miami to move up in the Eastern Conference standings and actually steal an MLS Cup playoff spot in the back half of the season?

He’s already played for us and now the focus needs to be on the Leagues Cup, U.S. Open Cup and MLS play… not necessarily in that order.

Focusing on when he makes his debut is just kind of pointless at this juncture.