Messi again in spotlight ahead of first full MLS season

Miami's opening match will be at home against Real Salt Lake as the 2024 MLS season gets underway with replacement referees amid a labour dispute

Published : 21 Feb 2024, 06:52 AM
Updated : 21 Feb 2024, 06:52 AM

Argentine great Lionel Messi will start his first full season with Inter Miami on Wednesday and alongside some familiar faces from his Barcelona days, his new side are favourites to secure a maiden Major League Soccer title in 2024.

Messi made an instant impact when he joined Miami midseason last July, leading them to a Leagues Cup title, yet was unable to deliver enough magic to help his new club overcome their early season results and make the playoffs.

But Miami have since added Luis Suarez, a move that bolsters an already talented and deep squad and reunites the 37-year-old Uruguayan striker with former Barcelona team mates Messi, 36, Sergio Busquets, 35, and Jordi Alba, 34.

After sending ticket prices skyrocketing amid all the hype and constant headlines, Miami will try to put together the right plan in order to get the most out of their talented quartet.

"Superteams also find it difficult to win," Miami head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said in January. "Only if we prepare well and separate ourselves from believing that just by bringing together footballers, stories, pasts, we are going to do it. The teams that win are the ones that come together."

Miami's opening match will be at home against Real Salt Lake as the 2024 MLS season gets underway with replacement referees amid a labour dispute.

It will mark a welcome return home for Miami following a preseason tour during which they were booed after a last-minute decision saw record eight-time Ballon d'Or and World Cup winner Messi sit out a Hong Kong friendly due to injury.

Despite all their talent, there will be plenty of hurdles in Miami's way, as defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew and reigning Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati will both try to fend off Messi in the Eastern Conference.

Columbus, under French coach Wilfried Nancy, open their season against Atlanta on Saturday at home with their sights set on becoming the fourth MLS team to repeat as champions and first since David Beckham and LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012.

Columbus return with a loaded squad featuring 2023 MLS Cup Most Valuable Player Cucho Hernandez, four-time MLS Cup winner Darlington Nagbe and All-Star Aidan Morris.

In the Western Conference, St Louis City SC will be eager to build on their groundbreaking 2023 season when they became the first MLS team to clinch the top seed in their conference during a debut campaign.

Also expected to lead the charge in the Western Conference are Los Angeles FC, who won the 2022 MLS Cup before falling in last year's final to Columbus.

LAFC, whose head coach Steve Cherundolo was given a multi-year contract extension in December, return this season with France's World Cup-winner Hugo Lloris in goal following an 11-year spell with Tottenham Hotspur.

"It's rare that an MLS team, and a team in general, is able to sign a World Cup-winning captain," LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington told the Los Angeles Daily News. "And it did not take long for me and for us as a club to see exactly why Hugo has had the success he has had."