Inter Miami with Lionel Messi: How the MLS side stacks up after landing the legendary Argentine superstar

In a seismic move for Major League Soccer, Lionel Messi is moving to Inter Miami after his contract expires at Paris Saint-Germain. While Messi won’t be able to play for the club until after the summer transfer window opens on July 5th, this will be a monumental move for the Herons who are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. 

Messi will have to take one of their three Designated Player tags upon joining the club, which will require some roster mechanics since Josef Martinez, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Gregore occupy those three slots, but the club will find a way to make things happen by either buying down a member of the trio or moving them on. 

That won’t be the only change needed for fitting in the legendary Argentinian.

The Herons will also need to bring in a coach as Phil Neville was dismissed due to his performance and it provides an opportunity for Miami to swing for the fences. Tata Martino is someone who has been linked to join, but the line of managers who would want to come with Messi as a member of the club is longer than you can count. The pressure will be high as whoever leads the side will be expected to bring results from the first day and the magnifying glass on the club couldn’t be larger once Messi steps on the pitch.

There are things to like about the roster as Leonardo Campana and Martinez are a great strike force and they’ll have Messi supporting them, but while that helps the attack, one thing that it doesn’t help is that this team has conceded 21 goals in 16 games played. This isn’t a terrible number but with the team getting heavier in attack and then needing to shed players to make funds work they’ll need to be careful not to neglect the defensive side of the ball. But while they’ll be shedding players, others like Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez are targets that the team can add during the summer.

What Miami looks like now and what the team will look like when the transfer window opens on July 5th are two very different things. The anticipation for the clubs performance when Messi gets on the field is already showing as a team that was 200-1 to win the title only yesterday is currently at 30-1 and falling. With additions, subtractions and the integration of Messi, things are changing quickly in Miami.

What to expect

While Messi is now 35, playmaking isn’t something that dwindles quickly, and as his vision is second to none in the world, let alone in MLS, and Campana and Martinez can do the running in front of him. Fresh off of winning the World Cup and Ligue 1 Messi also grabbed 16 goals and 16 assists in domestic play. The closest recent comparison to Messi’s arrival might be Lorenzo Insigne’s coming to Toronto from Napoli. Messi has had similar topline attacking numbers. Over his two seasons before coming Insigne scored 30 league goals and assisted 16 more while Messi scored 22 and assisted 40.

Insigne plays in a different role which requires him to use his legs more but even with only 21 MLS appearances he has scored eight goals and assisted four. Messi could genuinely hit those marks by the end of the season due to having better attacking talent around him (and due to being, Messi and not Insigne). Miami are a club lacking in defense which could also change during the summer, but there’s a reason why the team is now among the contenders to win the league and that’s because of one Lionel Messi.

Who even coaches Messi?

After moving on from Nevile, all signs point to Martino coaching the team. The Argentine manager has already won MLS Cup with Atlanta United and he has also coached Messi between 2013-2016 for the Argentina National team and Barcelona. Despite Martino’s struggles with the Mexican national team, who crashed out of the 2022 World Cup during the group stage, he is still a highly regarded manager who could do wonders with this Miami team.

There are talented players, but they also get to look ahead for who the team could sign to fill Martino’s preferred formation. A manager who can be flexible in his setups, some semblance of a 5-3-2 or 3-4-3 may be best for Miami to get the best out of their attacking trident while also ensuring that there’s a sound defense to flank them. The defense has been the sole constant for the team with Drake Callender, DeAndre Yedlin, Franco Negri, Serhiy Kryvtsov, and Christopher McVey being the only players on the team to log more than 1000 league minutes so far this season. If Martino can find three players to start in the middle around them, this team can quickly climb the ranks to become contenders. It’s important to remember that Inter Miami was a playoff team last season and with the right leadership, they can get back there.

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How does Messi get registered?

Teams are only allowed three Designated Players and on Miami those spots are currently filled by Martinez, Pizzaro, and Gregore, so plenty of moves will need to happen for Messi to officially join. Pizzaro almost left the club once after going on loan to Monterrey but after the Mexican club declined his purchase option he returned and has been playing for the team this season. Now, taking into account that he doesn’t have 600 league minutes and that Messi will presumably take his role, that makes Pizzaro one of the more expendable players on the roster but it could be tricky to move him on during the summer to open that spot.

If that proves to be too tricky, there is the option of trying to buy down Gregore’s salary hit but that could dip into funds that Miami will need to make additional signings because while the team looks solid in attack and defense, midfielders and depth and friends for Messi are needed.

Are Messi and friends even a good idea?

It’s no secret that Messi would like his former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets to join him in making Miami resemble his Barcelona heyday as closely as possible. Jordi Alaba and Luis Suarez are also names that have been mentioned but when considering what the team needs to win this could turn into a similar situation to NBA superstar LeBron James being a defacto general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers. While all players have their wants and in some cases, it’s good to lean into those it’s not always in the best interest for the team.

In the case of the Lakers, some of the trades that they’ve made to get players that James wants to play with aren’t moves that ended up helping the team but elsewhere in the NBA the Milwaukee Bucks helped Giannis Antetokounmpo by adding his brother Thanasis Antetokoumpo to help him settle. But there’s a big differences between adding players to help with comfort off the field and adding players to help the team. 

If Busquets comes to Miami to help Messi integrate, then the move isn’t an issue but playing as a lone central defensive midfielder in the Miami heat during the middle of summer, things might not go too well. MLS has a long history of eating aging midfielders who struggle with the pace of MLS even while being technically superior. Just ask Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo, and we’ve even seen Miami have issues with this at the striker position where Gonzalo Higuain needed to get into shape before figuring out the league. In targeting aging players, the team needs to be careful as they won’t get many defensive contributions from the attackers.

If the Herons instead target talented young midfielders, not only will they be hungry to perform supporting a player that they idolize but younger players will also be more affordably to fill out a roster. A lot of work will need to be done but everything begins with naming a coach. Having that in hand, that coach can communicate with Messi and make sure that when he arrives, the team is able to perform at the best level possible leaving the current side at the bottom of the Eastern Conference as a distant memory. 

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