Lionel Messi caused seismic moves for the growth of North American soccer in one of the greatest sports deals in Major League Soccer history after joining Inter Miami from French heavyweights PSG this summer.
His era in Florida could not have begun any better as the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner led his new team to the Leagues Cup title. The Argentine superstar has bagged ten goals and delivered one assist on the way to the team’s inaugural significant title (the Herons have also won the Carolina Challenge Cup last year).
Messi’s arrival has also revived Inter Miami’s MLS ambitions. A playoff berth is well on the cards for Tata Martino’s troops after a recent winning thread. Can Lionel take them to Dreamland?
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How Messi Shifted Inter’s Fortunes Around in MLS?
Before Leo’s arrival, Inter Miami had been on an eleven-game winless streak in the league. They have lost eight outings in the process, and they firmly held the very foot of the Eastern Conference standings at the time.
Messi made his MLS debut as a second-half substitute on August 27 away at New York Red Bulls. His team was already 1-0 up by the 60th minute. He needed less than half an hour to present his magic to the roaring crowd in Harrison, scoring an 89th-minute goal to confirm Inter Miami’s victory, their first in twelve league affairs.
Lionel was not on the scoresheet in the next two league starts, and he missed Inter’s 3-2 success against Sporting Kansas City through international duty, but his mere presence in the club has completely changed the team’s spirits.
Since Messi’s arrival, Inter Miami has collected ten out of twelve possible points in four MLS games. They are now just six points shy of D.C. United is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference table. With eight games left, there is every chance this team can secure postseason action.
International Call-Ups as the Only Realistic Obstacle
Things look great for Inter Miami at the moment, but they still have a mountain to climb before locking in the playoff berth. The rivals in the remaining eight outings may not represent the biggest obstacle, though.
Messi will most likely miss two of the final three regular-season games due to international duty (against Cincinnati and Charlotte) as Inter’s fans hope to see him back in action on the final day of the regular season away at Charlotte.
More problems could arise if in-form Leonardo Campana earns a call-up to Ecuador on the back of his brace against Sporting Kansas City. Josef Martinez, Robert Taylor, and Serhiy Kryvtsov will all likely feature for their respective national sides, much like they did in September’s window.
Gerardo Martino will thus have several big holes to fill in his roster for the campaign’s final stretch. New signings Tomas Abiles, Diego Gomez, and Facundo Farias might help, but the fact that Messi will not be there in the crunch time sets a silver cloud around the team’s ambitions.
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How Many Points Does Inter Need?
The 9th-place line was at 43.3 points across the previous three MLS campaigns. We know it is a small sample size, but it is at the same time the most realistic one following the additions of expansion clubs in recent years.
The Herons are currently on 28 points with 8 games to play, meaning they need two points per match to go above this line. With Messi on the roster, they are the favorites in all remaining games, bar those against Atlanta United and Cincinnati.
Things are pretty much clear here. Five wins in the next five games before Messi leaves for international duty, and the Herons will have one foot in the play-in action. Knowing what he has done so far in the short spell with this team, this target is achievable.
Inter Miami the Third Favorite for the MLS Cup (+650 with DraftKings)
The Herons’ stocks have drastically gone up among the US sportsbooks as most have them as second or third favorites for the MLS Cup trophy. It is quite funny seeing the team with one of the weakest records in the whole league among the top contenders for the title, with just eight games remaining in the regular season. This has to be the best indicator of the Messi effect.
At the moment, Inter Miami is +650 to win the MLS Cup. We have seen what Leo is capable of in the Leagues Cup, a very strong competition featuring all MLS and Liga MX clubs. With Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets as his backups, an all-around decent roster with in-form Taylor, Martinez, and Campana, and the highest possible team spirit, we have all reasons to trust the Argentine phenomenon.
Although much shorter than a month ago, the +650 odds still represent crazy value for a club that is currently firing on all cylinders.