Note: Updates added to end of post.
The biggest question in MLS right now isn’t which teams will or won’t make the playoffs, it’s if Lionel Messi will play when Inter Miami face New York City FC tomorrow night.
According to The Athletic, Messi was in training today with the First Team for the first time this week. After missing the 2023 US Open Cup Final on Wednesday, it was thought that Messi would be a scratch for the NYCFC game. Now it looks like he could play, which could pit the greatest player in the soccerballing history against the best defense in MLS.
More important, if Messi plays NYCFC it might have significant implications both on and off the field.
After all, Messi is the number one draw in global soccer. When he joined Miami in the summer transfer window he added jet fuel to the MLS project: Sales in Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass reportedly spiked worldwide, and the secondary market for seats at the games where he’s expected can reach nose-bleed heights. Yesterday, Miami sent out 2024 renewals to season ticket holders who were surprised to see that prices will climb next year more than 80%.
Which is why so many are wondering whether or not Messi will play when Miami host NYCFC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow, September 30, at 7:30 pm ET. Right now, Messi in the lineup is considered a game-time decision.
If Messi suits up, the Apple TV viewership will skyrocket and the price of seats will climb into the stratosphere. As of the publication of this post, you can get two seats to the game on StubHub for $40 apiece; that could jump to $200 each or more if speculators think he’ll put on a pink kit tomorrow.
And it could change how NYCFC play their game. Both Messi and teammate Jordi Alba didn’t make the lineup card for the 2023 US Open Cup Final on Wednesday, and Miami lost at home to a composed and creative Houston Dynamo. That night, Messi, Alba, and the rest of the squad watched Houston lift silverware in their home stadium.
Right now, Miami are four points off the playoff zone with five games left in the season. A loss to NYCFC will leave them at six points off, as New York City occupy that ninth and final spot. That result wouldn’t mathematically eliminate Miami from the postseason, but making the playoffs will become nearly impossible.
That might put pressure on Messi and Miami head coach Tara Martinez to find a way to get the talisman on the field.
Then again, The Athletic pointed out that “Messi played 600 minutes in August, exceeding any calendar month in minutes played since he left Barcelona in 2019.” Squeezing another 30 minutes out of the 36-year-old just so that Miami can keep their fading playoff hopes alive might not be the wisest move for the player or the club.
Updated September 30, 2023, 6:37 pm ET: Lionel Messi didn’t arrive at stadium with team according to Michelle Kauffman of the Miami Herald.
Updated September 30, 2023, 6:43 pm ET: Lionel Messi isn’t on the official lineup card issued by Inter Miami.