Soccer in South Florida is about to change forever.
The area’s four-year-old Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami CF, has been thrust onto the international stage, all because of one person: Lionel Messi.
Fans across the globe will be watching Inter Miami, curious how one of the greatest to ever play the game will shine in American professional soccer. And if you live in South Florida, there’s a good chance you haven’t been keeping up Inter Miami.
If you haven’t been paying much attention to Messi or Inter Miami, here’s a quick chance to catch up.
Who is Lionel Messi and is he really that good?
The Ballon d’Or trophy is an international award handed out annually to the top soccer player in the world. At 36, Messi has won it seven times in his career, the most of anyone, ever.
He is the Tom Brady, Michael Jordan/LeBron James or Wayne Gretzky of soccer.
His list of personal accolades is incredibly long: three The Best FIFA Men’s Player awards, two FIFA World Cup Golden Balls, three UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Awards, six European Golden Shoes, six La Liga Best Player recognitions, eight Pichichi Trophies and 15 Argentine Footballer of the Year awards.
Playing for FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and the Argentina national team, Messi has also picked up four UEFA Champions League titles, 10 La Liga titles, two Ligue 1 titles, seven Copa del Ray titles, an Olympic gold medal, the 2022 FIFA World Cup and many more.
Messi also holds a ridiculous amount of goal-scoring records.
He was born in Rosario, Argentina but moved to Spain when he was 13 when he signed on with FC Barcelona. As a child he was diagnosed with a growth deficiency, and Barcelona paid for his treatments. Today he is listed as 5-foot-7 and 159 pounds. His nickname is “La Pulga,” the flea.
He is married to Antonela Roccuzzo, his childhood friend, and they have three sons. He does not seek the limelight and values his privacy.
His mother has said he was named after singer Lionel Richie.
So, how did Inter Miami land Messi?
Messi quickly ascended to become one of the top players in the world in his 17 seasons at FC Barcelona, but left in 2021. He didn’t want to leave, but it was a complicated situation. Simply put, there were salary-cap issues on Barcelona’s side.
So, he went to France and joined Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal. Messi decided to not extend his deal, essentially making him an international free agent after the season that just ended.
His top choices mainly boiled down to Inter Miami and Saudi Arabian club Al Ittihad.
Al Ittihad offered the money and tons of it. Way more than Inter Miami ever could. Some reports say over $1 billion.
Inter Miami offered the legacy. Messi could become the face of a soccer boom in the United States. It was a marriage years in the making. Messi, who’s had a home in South Florida for years, also pointed out that his family likes the area.
Exact details of Messi’s contract have not been revealed, other than it runs through the 2025 MLS season. It’s reported to be a first-of-its-kind deal, ranging from $50-60 million annually and including an Inter Miami ownership stake upon his retirement and a cut of money from the MLS’ television deal with Apple.
Where did Inter Miami come from?
It all started with former English soccer star and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham, who made a similar jump to the MLS like Messi did to Inter Miami. Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007, and part of his agreement included an option to later purchase an expansion team for a mere $25 million fee. For comparison, Nashville SC, which also began MLS play the same year as Inter Miami, was charged a $150 million expansion fee.
Beckham retired from playing in 2013 and joined forces with investors to form the Miami Beckham United ownership group. The team is owned by Beckham and brothers Jorge and Jose Mas, who are the sons of Jorge Mas Casona, the founder of MasTec, a local engineering and construction company.
The Beckham group was awarded the 25th MLS franchise in January 2018, with a 2020 launch season. It marked the return of MLS soccer in South Florida, since the Miami Fusion had been contracted by the league in 2002. The official club name was announced nine months later — Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami — but is most commonly referred to as Inter Miami CF. Their colors are a non-traditional pink and and black.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Inter Miami. For years, Beckham’s ownership group struggled to find a stadium site, and the team has yet to have a winning season. Construction still hasn’t started on a permanent stadium, and the team is involved in some legal bickering with the city of Fort Lauderdale about contract terms for its temporary home.
Inter Miami played its first two games in franchise history in March 2020, both on the road, before the pandemic hit and paused the season, just before the team’s home opener. It wasn’t until August 2020 — one month after MLS play resumed — that Inter Miami won its first game in a 3-2 decision over Orlando City SC. That was also Inter Miami’s first game ever played at DRV PNK Stadium.
So, what’s up with these stadiums?
Inter Miami is in its fourth season of playing at DRV PNK Stadium (pronounced “Drive Pink”) in Fort Lauderdale, although the team always sought a home in Miami-Dade County. (They are not called Inter Fort Lauderdale, you know).
In 2014, Beckham aspired to build stadium on the water in Miami. That never worked out. There was also a plan to build a stadium at the old Orange Bowl site in Little Havana. That also fell through in 2015. An Overtown site was also explored, but that too, was abandoned.
The current plan is for Inter Miami to construct a 25,000-seat stadium at Miami Freedom Park, which is scheduled to be finished in 2025. Located near Miami International Airport, it sits on the grounds of International Links Melreese Country Club, which permanently closed in March. Jorge Mas recently said the team signed a lease for the land in February. Construction has not yet begun.
The Miami stadium will be 100% privately funded and, according to the team website, the location will span 73 acres, contribute 15,000 direct and indirect jobs and create a park around the stadium that will be the largest in the city.
But for now, DRV PNK Stadium is the home. It was recently upgraded to add 3,000 seats to the 19,100 capacity on the former grounds of Lockhart Stadium, which previously housed the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Miami Fusion and Florida Atlantic football team. The DRV PNK name derives from a partnership with AutoNation, which has an initiative that raises money dedicated toward cancer research and treatment.
A giant field sits south of DRV PNK Stadium and is used for parking on game days. The team’s training center is on the north side of the stadium. A small plaza is located in between the parking field and the stadium entrance, providing a place for music, games and other activities before the match.
However, the relationship between Inter Miami and the city of Fort Lauderdale is a tumultuous one. A thorny legal battle has evolved involving the stadium parking lot, a long-promised park near the stadium that has yet to be built and even a blackmail accusation.
So far this season, Inter Miami’s average attendance this year is 16,483, ranking them 25th out of the 29-team MLS, according to Soccer Stadium Digest.
The supporters section, named “La Familia” and broken into five subgroups at the north end of DRV PNK Stadium, is a sea of black and pink. They chant passionately for their team at every game, and it looks like they will finally be rewarded for their loyalty with a soccer superstar on the pitch.
How do Inter Miami fare on the field?
Inter Miami’s first few seasons haven’t been a smashing success. The team has yet to post a winning record, though Inter Miami had its best season to date last year, with a 14-14-6 record and a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. It was good enough for the club’s second trip to the playoffs (the first coming after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season). The 2022 postseason was a one-and-done affair, a 3-0 defeat to third-seeded New York City FC in the first round.
This season, Inter Miami won its first two games, but has since fallen apart. Through 22 games, Inter Miami is just 5-14-3 for 18 points, the worst record in the league. Inter Miami is winless since May 13, a streak that now also sits at 11 games.
The team hasn’t had the most stable leadership, now on their fourth coach in their fourth season.
Diego Alonso was the team’s inaugural head coach, but mutually parted ways with the team in January 2021. He was replaced by Phill Neville, who led Inter Miami to its first playoff appearance last year, but was fired on June 1.
Javier Morales served as the team’s interim head coach until Gerardo “Tata” Martino took over on July 10. Martino used to coach Messi when he was with the Argentina National Team and briefly at Barcelona. Morales has returned to his role as an assistant coach.
Who else is on the team?
Forward Josef Martinez leads Inter Miami with six goals this season and recently entered the top 10 in MLS career goals.
Midfielders Jean Mota and Robert Taylor are tied for the team-lead four assists, though Mota hasn’t played since April 29 and is expected to be out for the next 2-4 months with an LCL knee injury.
Goalkeeper Drake Callender has started all 22 games in net. He’s allowed a goal in 20 consecutive games, but defensive lapses haven’t done him many favors.
Defenders DeAndre Yedlin and Kamal Miller returned on Saturday after being away from Inter Miami for the last month serving national team duties. They are two of Inter Miami’s better defenders and should bring some more stability.
Many of the other regular starters are young players who have come up through Inter Miami’s academy, such as Benjamin Cremaschi, Noah Allen, Ian Fray and David Ruiz. They have been needed as Inter Miami battles numerous injuries, and to their credit, have stepped up well, especially given the midseason coaching changes.
No. 1 Drake Callender, Goalkeeper
No. 2 DeAndre Yedlin, Defender
No. 3 Dixon Arroyo, Midfielder
No. 4 Christopher McVey, Defender
No. 7 Jean Mota, Midfielder
No. 9 Leonardo Campana, Forward
No. 10 Lionel Messi, Forward
No. 13 Victor Ulloa, Midfielder
No. 14 Corentin Jean, Forward
No. 15 Ryan Sailor, Defender
No. 16 Robert Taylor, Forward/Midfielder
No. 17 Josef Martínez, Forward
No. 18 Harvey Neville, Defender
No. 19 Robbie Robinson, Forward
No. 21 Nick Marsman, Goalkeeper
No. 22 Nicolás Stefaneilli, Forward
No. 24 Ian Fray, Defender
No. 26 Gregore, Midfielder
No. 27 Sergii Kryvstov, Defender
No. 28 Edison Azcona, Midfielder
No. 29 CJ Dos Santos, Goalkeeper
No. 30 Benjamin Cremaschi, Midfielder
No. 31 Kamal Miller, Defender
No. 31 Noah Allen, Defender
No. 33 Franco Negri, Defender
No. 41 David Ruiz, Midfielder
No. 49 Shanyder Borgelin, Forward
No. 99 Cole Jensen, Goalkeeper