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What we learned from Lionel Messi's Inter Miami debut

Lionel Messi laid down a marker on his debut for MLS outfit Inter Miami by scoring a late winner with a sublime free kick in a Leagues Cup clash with Cruz Azul.

The Argentina legend made his debut as a second-half substitute, alongside former Barcelona team-mate Sergio Busquets, and hit an injury time winner in the 2-1 victory over the Mexican outfit.

The excitement had been building prior to Messi’s arrival in Miami and the game was a sellout as the fans clamoured to watch the record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner make his first appearance, but what have we learned from his first outing in an Inter shirt?

Messi has boosted Miami’s profile

The capture of a superstar that many consider to be the greatest to ever play the game would be a huge boost for any club, and that proved to be the case this weekend as Messi made his first appearance for Inter Miami.

Smoke bombs were let off behind the goal at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale after Messi fired home from the free kick as a packed stadium celebrated. There were celebrities from the world of sport and beyond in attendance as LeBron James, Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams were among the sellout 20,000 crowd and there is a good chance more huge names will attend Miami’s games over the remainder of the season as fans in the USA seek to watch the former Barcelona and PSG man in action.

Inter Miami may be enduring a difficult season, for now at least, but with Messi onboard they are clearly the team to watch in MLS moving forward and that point was reinforced by the party atmosphere and the huge crowd who gathered for their victory over Cruz Azul.

"It's so exciting tonight for our fans,” said Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham after the victory, as reported by the BBC. All of these people that come down here to see Leo just step onto the pitch, let alone just do what he's done. It's a dream come true for everyone in this stadium to see.

"It's such a moment for this country, such a moment for this league."

Messi remains an elite performer

Admittedly, we probably didn’t learn that Lionel Messi is still right up there with the best in the business in his Inter Miami debut - he guided Argentina to World Cup glory mere months ago of course - but that point was at least reinforced by his exquisite set-piece strike.

The 36-year-old has won silverware at every club he has played for and at international level and trophies will be his target in Miami.

Inter Miami are rated at +1000 to win the Leagues Cup outright, behind Mexico’s Club America at +900.

The MLS Cup isn’t out of the question for Miami

The arrival of Messi has clearly given the Herons fans a huge lift, and it should also see the players raise their performance levels as well - and we perhaps saw the first signs of this in the victory over Cruz Azul.

Inter have endured a difficult season so far in MLS and they sit rock-bottom of the Eastern Conference with just 18 points to show from 22 games so far, meaning they have the worst record across the entire league.

However, ninth place would be good enough for postseason involvement and the Florida outfit are currently 12 points adrift of DC United who currently occupy that spot. 

That is a big difference to make up over the final 12 games of the regular season but if Inter are able to put a run of wins together the picture could change quickly and there is a chance Messi can help them reach the MLS Playoffs.

The league is on a break until late August to allow the Leagues Cup to take place and Inter Miami’s next MLS fixture is a home game against Charlotte on August 20th. 

If they can find some form over the course of the cup competition and then hit the ground running when MLS resumes they may well be able to climb the standings in the East and challenge for those postseason places. 

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