The “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” are crossed as Inter Miami and Lionel Messi made their deal official on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday, the team has an event planned to unveil Messi to fans at DRV PNK Stadium.
"I'm very excited to start this next step in my career with Inter Miami and in the United States. This is a fantastic opportunity and together we will continue to build this beautiful project. The idea is to work together to achieve the objectives we set, and I'm very eager to start helping here in my new home."- Lionel Messi, via Inter Miami statement.
That’s great, but one big question is: What should we expect from Messi right away?
Let’s dive into that.
Inter Miami Needs All The Help It Can Get
Currently, the Herons sit at the bottom of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference with 18 points from 21 games.
Inter is averaging a conference low of 0.86 goals per game. Only Colorado has a lower PPG average (0.82).
Its 18 points so far this season is 11 points back of ninth-place Chicago and a spot in the playoffs with one game in hand with the Fire.
Additionally, the Herons have lost a league-high 13 matches of the 21 played. For reference, Montreal CF has 12 losses but has collected eight wins and sits in 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The squad has a goal differential of minus-11 which, oddly enough, isn’t the worst in the league. Toronto and Colorado carry that distinction with a GD of minus-14.
The biggest problem for Inter Miami has been a lack of quality on both sides of the ball.
Prior to its last three matches — all ties — the Herons were outscored by opponents 17-6 in their previous seven matches.
Let that sink in … six goals in seven matches.
Inter opened the season with a pair of wins before a winless streak of six matches where they were outscored 9-3.
It’s clear that the Herons need help on both offense and defense.
Does Messi Make An Immediate Impact?
Well, obviously, the answer to that question is yes.
If nothing else, ticket sales went through the roof when it was confirmed Messi would join the team.
However, on the pitch, it will likely be a different story.
The club confirmed Messi would be available for selection against Cruz Azul in the Herons’ opening match of the Leagues Cup on Friday, July 21.
Of note: Messi will wear No. 10, so all of those fake jerseys bought with the No. 10 are still good.
But we shouldn’t expect him to start on Friday. Nor should we expect new manager Tata Martino to slot Messi into the starting lineup against Charlotte on August 20 — Inter’s next MLS match after the Leagues Cup break — or against Atlanta United on July 25 (also a Leagues Cup match).
Now, if Inter advanced in the Leagues Cup, it may be more plausible that Messi gets a starting nod against Charlotte in August or even against FC Cincinnati on August 23 in the U.S. Open Cup.
You have a new manager in Martino and Messi attempting to acclimate to both the team and Martino’s style of play.
The good news is that if the Herons don’t make it out of the Leagues Cup group stage, it will give Messi and Inter Miami a great chance to gel in practice.
So, When Does Messi Start for Inter?
All things considered, Messi could look at Charlotte or Cincinnati as his first starting opportunity.
But again, it might be foolhardy to think that Messi will start immediately as he is coming off a full season of playing with Paris-St. Germain. It might be more realistic to think Messi will come off the bench … and come off earlier and earlier as the remainder of the season progresses.
Where Messi makes the biggest impact … aside from ticket sales … is the experience and leadership he brings to the squad.
Players will listen to what he says in practice and in-game … and they will take his suggestions to heart immediately as he commands that kind of respect.
That is going to be where we see Messi make the biggest difference this season.
It may not be enough to pull the Herons into the playoffs this year, but it will be enough to set a strong foundation for next season.