During a TED Talk-inspired event at the Milander Center of Arts and Entertainment in Hialeah, Florida, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni revealed something that still makes him smile when he thinks back on his team’s World Cup triumph nine months ago in Qatar.

It wasn’t Gonzalo Montiel’s winning penalty in the final against France, or Lionel Messi’s incredible pass to Nahuel Molina in Argentina’s quarterfinal shootout win over the Netherlands. Instead, it was a cultural byproduct of Argentina’s third World Cup title and an important part of the national team brand’s expansion in the United States.

“I recently spoke with the people at the (Argentine) consulate,” Scaloni said. “They told me that after the World Cup, there were a lot of kids (in Miami) who wanted to apply for their Argentine passports. That’s amazing. That fills me with so much pride.”

On Tuesday, the Argentina Football Association (AFA) formally announced their ambitious masterplan to establish a permanent presence in the U.S., dubbed AFA USA. Hialeah will be home to a sprawling, state-of-the-art high performance training center. North Bay Village will house the AFA’s commercial, administrative and coaching education offices. In April, The Athletic reported on the AFA’s mission to globalize the Argentina national team brand.

South Florida will become Argentina’s base camp for next year’s Copa América, which will be held in the U.S., as well as for select CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, and of course, for the North American World Cup in 2026.

“This is an essential part of our sporting project. Last year we went to play in Venezuela and we didn’t have a place to train,” said Scaloni. “We would’ve liked to have something like this then. Had we had this, we would’ve set up camp here and we would’ve traveled comfortably to play Venezuela. It would’ve been great. This is very positive progress for us.”

Logistics and marketing opportunities are a big part of the AFA USA project, but so too is talent identification and development. Hence, Scaloni’s excitement about scouting future national team players in the U.S.

“We have a specialized group that tries to track players and families who have left Argentina,” Scaloni said. “It’s something that we have a firm grasp on. We have to be ready because some interesting developments could take place. We’re very open to that, and our (scouting) department is very much on top of everything.”

Aside from the World Cup victory, the timing of the AFA’s U.S. expansion could not be more perfect, with Lionel Messi joining Inter Miami and immediately taking North American soccer by storm.

“We feel so appreciated here, especially because there are so many Argentines in Miami,” Scaloni said. “We feel at home. (Messi’s) arrival has made this entire project even bigger.”

On Tuesday, inside a packed room that included youth coaches, marketers, officials from MLS and the Mexican Football Federation, as well as football development professionals and local politicians, Scaloni and AFA president Claudio Tapia talked about staying hungry for success and why the U.S. market, and Messi’s arrival in MLS, will catapult their project forward.

In 2017, Tapia’s first year as AFA president, the federation embarked on a global campaign to expand the AFA brand in key markets, including Asia, the Middle East, and the U.S. Since then, the AFA has landed over 50 new global sponsors. The national team is replete with global stars and big personalities, and Messi’s increasing relevance in the U.S. makes the three-time World Cup champions a coveted brand for advertisers.

One audience member, a former international football official, looked around the room and remarked, “AFA invited all these people as if to say, ‘We’re about to eat your lunch.’”

Tapia and Hialeah mayor Esteban Bovo would not disclose the total investment that the AFA will make to build the training center in Miami. North Bay Village mayor Brent Latham had previously told The Athletic that the AFA would pay approximately $10 million for football pitches and additional recreational spaces at that location.

Bovo told reporters that there are still “many details to be ironed out,” but that the AFA’s presence in Hialeah represented a massive boon for the city’s public park projects, as well as the city’s overall economic platform.

The AFA could have two national team training centers on American soil (Hialeah and North Bay Village) before U.S. Soccer has their first. Tapia was asked if he had consulted CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani about building national team centers in another federation’s territory.

“This facility has nothing to do with CONCACAF or CONMEBOL. It’s an AFA facility,” Tapia said of the Hialeah project. “There’s no doubt that Lionel (Messi’s) arrival in the (U.S.) domestic league has created many ideas, many possibilities. I know that CONMEBOL and its president (Alejandro) Dominguez, along with Victor Montagliani are talking about holding some conferences together in order to continue to add value to football in South America and to football in the United States.”

Since Tuesday, several rumors have surfaced about Tapia and Dominguez urging CONCACAF to allow Inter Miami to play in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club championship. Dominguez himself has told Messi that the Libertadores trophy is the one major title that Argentina’s captain has yet to win. CONCACAF has previously said that reports of their clubs playing in the Copa Libertadores are false.

The reality is this: There will be marketing opportunities in the U.S., but the AFA and CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez are close allies who are committed solely to strengthening their own confederation. In the short-term, the AFA’s U.S. expansion is about defending their Copa America title stateside, then securing Argentina’s fourth World Cup title on U.S. soil.

Tapia also disclosed that the AFA will assist other CONMEBOL federations, specifically Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador in their efforts to scout U.S. dual nationals. Rival countries assisting each other to identify dual nationals in the U.S. would be unprecedented. But again, if turning CONMEBOL into the dominant confederation in the world is the objective, then every country must get significantly better.

“This (expansion) won’t finish after the next World Cup,” said Tapia. “It will continue to advance the growth and development of men’s and women’s football. We have plans to continue to expand, beyond the two competitions that we’re facing. Scouting is one part of it.”

Furthermore, the Argentines realize that now is the ideal time to recruit dual nationals in the U.S. The Argentina national team brand has never been more popular (although the 1986 World Cup winners, led by Diego Maradona, enamored fans around the world, too). Messi’s own brand will soon reach new heights stateside, and now the AFA has brought another recruiting battle to U.S. Soccer’s doorstep.

“When we started this project in 2017, people thought we were crazy,” said Tapia. “How are they going to have a headquarters in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world, if they can’t strengthen what they already have? This is the vision of the Argentine football project.”

Inter Miami’s 18-year-old academy product Benjamin Cremaschi could become the AFA’s proof of concept. Cremaschi has work to do to become a regular youth international, but he is eligible to play for the U.S. or Argentina, and has already been a part of both country’s youth national teams. Cremaschi told ESPN Argentina recently that he understands he may have a decision to make soon, but that he is prioritizing his club football.

However, there’s no better pitchman for committing to Argentina than Messi, his Inter Miami teammate. There could potentially be thousands of boys in the U.S. like Cremaschi — Argentine-Americans whose pride for Argentina has been boosted by the 2022 World Cup.

Tapia said that Argentina’s women’s program will also benefit from the AFA’s expansion into North America. This is particularly noteworthy, seeing as how previous AFA regimes have not supported the women’s program, certainly not like the men’s teams.

Improving the competitiveness of the women’s national team is a priority, and Tapia believes that significant progress has already been made. Argentina’s senior women’s national team have qualified for two consecutive World Cups, although they have yet to earn a win in four tournament appearances, most recently finishing at the bottom of Group G at the current tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Tapia, though, smiled when he mentioned Argentina right back Sophia Braun’s path to the national team. Braun was born in Oregon and played college soccer at Gonzaga University. She was born to an American father and an Argentine mother, and currently plays in Liga MX Femenil for Club León. Braun was part of Argentina’s World Cup squad in Australia/New Zealand. She scored in Argentina’s 2-2 draw against South Africa.

“She doesn’t speak Spanish,” Tapia said. “But she plays for us and she scored a great goal at the World Cup.”

“We need to have a place in the world where it’s easier for Argentina and the AFA to have a greater impact than what we have today,” Tapia continued. “We can move about a lot easier and more comfortably from here. We have Copa America and a World Cup to play. This will be our home base. We started all of this before we knew that the best player in the world would come to the U.S. to play. We also have to be closer to where there are many Argentine boys and girls who are playing football in order to accelerate our national team project.”

(Photo: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)