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What is expected of Inter Miami as Lionel Messi Year 2 opens with win? Absolutely everything | Opinion

What should Inter Miami fans expect of Lionel Messi in 2024 with his first full season in Major League Soccer now underway?

Everything, that’s all. Matters not that he will turn 37 in a few months. Time is the constraint of mere mortals. This is Messi: Greatest of all time and greater than time itself.

Are we serious? Another question: Can there be too much hyperbole when applied to this man?

And now Messi is joined not only by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba again, but by new attacker Luis Suarez to form a Big 4.

The superteam on paper looked the part on grass in much of Wednesday night’s season opener in Fort Lauderdale in a sold-out stadium, decisively handling Real Salt Lake though the 2-0 final didn’t reflect the early dominance.

Robert Taylor’s right-footed skimmer found the inside left post in the 39th minute on a perfect assist from (of course) Messi. Diego Gomez’s goals in the 83rd minute provided the breathing room on service from Suarez.

Memorable Messi moment du jour: Chipping the ball over a fallen defender to himself and uncorking a shot on goal.

The Herons showed some fatigue in the second half, used three substitutes and needed two big saves from Drake Callender. It was the residue of the unwisely rigorous 25,000-mile preseason tour.

Still, how great is the potential of this team in pink? Think the 1972-73 double-champion Dolphins. Think the 2010-14 Big 3 Heat that won a pair of championships.

No, we are not predicting a Perfect Season II in South Florida. Otherwise though the bar on expectations cannot be set any higher.

So here is what we expect in ‘24:

Inter Miami’s first MLS Cup league title — championship or bust. A repeat of the Leagues Cup trophy won last year. The CONCACAF Champions Cup, with Miami already qualified into the Round of 16 and needing but four wins to collect the $5 million prize. And the U.S. Open Cup, too, if MLS changes its tune and allows its teams to compete.

“We want to win every trophy we’re playing for,” Alba said. “It’s going to be very complicated because there are some very well-prepared teams with the same dreams as us. But I think we have a very good team.”

Almost forgot, Messi also will be playing matches for Argentina this summer in the Copa America tournament in June and perhaps into July. Might as well go ahead and win that,. too.

And while you’re at it, Leo, please play every minute of every match and score in every game, preferably in the goal nearest where I’m sitting.

And don’t you dare ever take a game off injured or to rest! You saw how that worked out in Hong Kong. There were protests and government declarations of outrage because you sat for a recent exhibition game there.

What’s ahead might be confusing to those less familiar with the intermingling competitions in this sport. It’s a lot of opportunity for Inter Miami to add to its budding hardware collection. A lot of pressure, too. It’s also a lot of matches to play for a team whose nucleus is a quartet of aging players. It could mean maintenance against an overload of work and risk of injury — which in turn will mean Messi sits out a few games. Maybe more than a few.

No matter.

We still expect everything in the next two seasons we have Messi through 2025. No, we demand it.

Miami shed a shambolic preseason performance with a first half that was sublime.

“If anybody had been skeptical about what this team can do, I think the first half showed them,” said Inter Miami coach Tata Martino. “I saw [Messi] playing free on the field. And with the same fine touch he always had. And he showed some speed, too. He has a characteristic that no other player has. He grabs the ball very far from the rival goal and the feeling he gives is that he will generate something that will end in a goal situation. The play he had ... is a sign that he is good physically and also happy to be on the pitch.”

We already have seen the Messi Effect financially on this league, on soccer in this country and on this fifth-year franchise. If money is the barometer (and when isn’t it?), Messi in America already has succeeded hugely and beyond question.

MLS commissioner Don Garber attended Wednesday night’s opener, and of course he did! He should have arrived with roses for Messi — so over-the moon-grateful this league should be for this iconic global superstar and eight-time Ballon d’Or winner agreeing to play in it.

Garber all but admits he is rooting for Team Messi: “I think the eyes of the world are on Inter Miami, and I’m hoping that they’re able to deliver on that and whatever expectations people have. I’d like [Messi’s] experience to be good, the experience of the team to be successful, how they’re positioned both here in the league but also around the world.”

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new tourism ad campaign features the slogan, “Sun, Sand & Soccer.” That is the Messi Effect.

So was the club’s grueling five-nation, seven-match preseason tour, which might have been dubious in terms of preparation and a rested team to open the season — but was a financial windfall. Inter Miami is squeezing all it can from Messi’s unmatched drawing power.

More Messi Effect: Per TickPick, the average price of an MLS game ticket has soared from a $73 average last season to $164 in 2024 — a 124 percent hike. The average price to see Messi (home or away) is $275. Call it price gouging; you might be right. But this is the demand to see Messi and what the market will bear.

Inter Miami’s league-leading revenue north of $120 million in ‘23 was mostly Messi even though he didn’t join the team until July, and ‘24 season tickets sold out fast despite a predictably huge price hike. MLS Season Pass subscriptions on Apple TV soared and the league set all-time attendance records because of him.

Now the on-field bounty must match the financial windfall.

The championships including the MLS Cup must follow.

Because, ultimately, the winning — and a lots of it — must be the crowning, lasting achievement of the Messi Effect in Miami.