In the stands at DRV PNK stadium on Tuesday night, half an hour before the match even started, Lionel Messi had already cast his spell.

From the moment the Argentine took the field for warm-ups, Miami’s supporters were rapt. They cheered his calisthenics work, they roared when he completed simple passes and moments later, when he struck a few free kicks, they burst into cheers at every one he made (and the few he missed.) It felt a bit like scenes from a different sport, in a different era: when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa led baseball resurgence with their home run race and their batting practice sessions became as much a part of the show as the games that they were bringing into everyday conversation.

Before the match even started, thousands of Messi’s faithful were chanting his name and even bowing, “Wayne’s World” style.

By the time Messi departed the match in the 78th minute — after scoring two of Miami’s goals and assisting on another two — he had somehow lived up to the hype.

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For decades, American soccer fans and commentators have fawned over nearly every high-profile import that’s played in an American league. In the ‘70s, players like Pelé and Johan Cruyff, masters of the game who were clearly hampered by age and even by the players surrounding them, had their every touch, their every movement canonized.

MLS has not been immune to this; the league has had always needed figures who can do one of two things — seduce fans with celebrity, or seduce them with incredible acts on the field. Didier Drogba scored 11 goals in his first 11 MLS games. Gareth Bale was a complete bust in MLS but will largely be remembered for his singular moment of brilliance, his game-tying goal in the league’s championship game in 2022. Thierry Henry scored 51 goals with 42 assists in 122 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened his MLS account with a stunning long-distance volley and scored 53 goals in two seasons. Prior to Messi’s arrival, he — and David Beckham, who won two MLS Cups with the LA Galaxy — may be the only players in the league’s 27-year history who ticked both boxes.

Messi arrived with more hype than all of them combined, by a wide margin. Yet despite all that, Messi is still living up to all of the crazy hopes that Inter Miami and MLS could’ve had for him.

In his Friday night debut, with one stroke of his left foot, he took the first steps toward etching his name into the American soccer history books with a game-winning free kick against Cruz Azul. The goal was beamed around the world, with more than 200 million views in the next four days.

That moment of brilliance could have been chalked up to just that. One moment. But on Tuesday, Messi needed just 22 minutes to show that this is who he will be in Miami. And could it really be that much of a surprise?


Leo Messi scores his second for @InterMiamiCF in as many games!

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 25, 2023

With a pair of lovely goals — and a host of other beautiful touches — Messi made his intentions much more clear. He made everything look easy because, well, it was. He turned Robert Taylor, a mid-level role-player who had scored five goals in his previous 52 matches, into a world-beater. Taylor had two goals, including one emphatic volley to the upper corner, and an assist in his 82-minute performance. Messi celebrated both of those exchanges as if the two had combined for goals in a Champions League match.

Messi directly assisted one of Taylor’s two goals on the night (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Undoubtedly, Messi’s teammates are still adjusting to him. In the first half, 18-year-old Benjamin Cremaschi, an Argentine-American midfielder who suddenly finds himself paired with arguably the greatest player in history, looked a wide-open Messi off and made his own attempt at goal. Before Messi could even chide him, Cremaschi had his hands on his head, realizing what he’d just done. Midway through the second half, with Miami already up by four, Victor Ulloa did the same. This time, Messi motioned toward his feet afterwards, something he did multiple times on Friday.


By the time he came off the field after 78 minutes and handed the captain’s armband off to DeAndre Yedlin, there had not been a single moment in the game in which Messi hadn’t made some sort of impact. Even in the dying moments of his shift, when he somehow became even more of a stationary player than he normally is at this point in his career, Messi continued to draw defenders and sow unease in the opponents who surrounded him. In his last act on the field, Messi showed for the ball near the halfway stripe, received it and ran toward goal. He combined on a lovely exchange with Miami’s striker, Josef Martinez, who in turn fed the ball across to Taylor, who came inches from sealing his hat trick.


At 9:14 p.m., Messi was subbed off. A pitch invader shed his flip flops at the far end of the field and sprinted toward Miami’s bench, where he was halted by Tata Martino’s outstretched arms as numerous security guards converged from every angle. And once Messi was sitting on the bench watching his teammates finish off the 4-0 win, he signed autographs for nearby fans.

In the stands at DRV PNK Stadium, the sentiment after Messi’s departure felt very much the same as it had in warmups. The crowd chanted his name again and again. “Messi. Messi.” The Wayne’s World bows came out again.

We are not worthy.

(Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)