Luis Miguel EchegareESPN8 minutes of reading
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Sometimes in this game of ours, an ending is so perfectly written that it defies belief. There is no point in reasoning or analyzing it. All you can do is marvel at the magic, thank the football gods you were there to witness it, and most importantly, thank the magician who made it happen.
“It was like a movie playing over and over again forever,” he said Inter Miami CF coach Gerardo “Tada” Martino after seeing Lionel Messi’s latest amazing feat. “It’s almost as written… [Messi] There’s always time to write these stories.”
Messi lit up the crowd at the DRV PNK Stadium in Friday’s 2-1 win against Liga MX side Cruz Azul in the group stage of the League Cup.
But as Martino rightly points out, treating this moment like a movie, the story first needs a setting and a setting that leads to this almost unimaginable finale.
So let’s start with the visuals.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, and more (US)
Under a clear, densely humid sky, a crowd of 20,000 in pink and black danced, beat drums and chanted the one name they had longed for. The only name on the back of their shirt. The only name that can evoke such excitement.
They have the same name. Lionel Messi.
They are not the only ones. Celebrities and superstars also attended, hoping to get inspired. Names like LeBron James and Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian and Marc Anthony — they’re all sitting in VIP suites, literally meters away from the players, in true Miami spirit.
Latin artist Peggy G sang the national anthem and fireworks lit up the sky before kickoff. Oh, and did I mention there are massive helicopters circling the arena?
The stadium’s DJ — knowing the audience — played Bad Bunny, reggaeton and Latin trap music as he mixed Spanish and English throughout the evening. But in the end, especially in the first half, nothing but Messi mattered.
The crowd loved the mantra. They want flea. As the match began, chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi…” rang out, Leo sat on the bench smiling at his wife Antonella Roguso and their three children.
He hugged LeBron, congratulated friends and loved ones, and enjoyed every second. This is a happy Leo; A relaxed Leo. Not because he didn’t take it seriously, but because he embraced his new reality.
The first half came and went. That first 45 minutes could have been another night because, in fact, the crucial moment came just after the start of the second half. As Messi and the bench began to warm up, the crowd rose from their seats knowing the time had come. Again the slogans started.
Then in the 55th minute the story turned to the next chapter. Messi entered the pitch and the atmosphere inside the stadium changed completely. The energy became almost non-existent. Not a single person took a seat as his name echoed across the stadium again. It was a historic moment as Messi — perhaps without realizing it — changed the landscape of American soccer culture as the only alternative.
There he stood, 5-foot-7, but he might as well have been a giant. He stepped onto the field and the entire state of Florida could have heard chants.
As the minutes ticked on and both teams faced the draw, Messi went forward with his teammate. Joseph Martínez (the two develop a friendship on and off the pitch) crosses the front line whenever he wants.
Messi — used to the pressure of playing for Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina — was probably the most relaxed inside the stadium. The thing about being 36 is that he is now a master of his own tempo.
In one game, he has his own band. The first few steps on the pitch are a walk, a casual stroll, as he marches between opponents by examining the rhythm of the game … then, once he receives the ball, the pace changes dramatically.
There was one particular instance when Messi received the ball and, without blinking an eye, bulldozed his way into the final third, evading a tackle before feeding Martinez a beautiful ball.
Everyone — including other players — knows it’s a different game. Messi continued to play on his own.
Drums played in the background and whatever he did, the entire fan base stomped their feet on the metal floor. A fan wearing a goat mask appeared on camera and everyone cheered. It was clear: it was not just a competition, it was a celebration.
In the 86th and 88th minutes, the offside calls were a tease — but also a foreshadowing of what was to come — as Messi received the ball and fed Martinez once again. The fans didn’t care, but they hoped that Messi would give them a spell.
And since it’s a movie, it happened.
The thing about Messi’s free kicks is that they are unpredictable. You know what’s going on, you just don’t know how to stop it. With the power and precision that only Messi can achieve, the pitch explodes as soon as the ball goes in.
I actually took a breath and didn’t believe it went in until I saw the reaction of the people around me. Messi and his teammates ran to the corner and immediately, the The World Cup champion went to hug his sons. Serena Williams was desperate; David Beckham, co-owner of the club and known for his spectacular free kicks during his playing career, began to tear up.
This is not Messi’s arrival, this is his coronation.
“I knew it was the last chance,” Messi said of his goal after the game. “I tried as always and luckily the goalkeeper couldn’t take the ball.”
Miami fans are hoping that this League Cup victory will turn the fortunes of a club that sits last in the MLS regular season standings.
“It is important for this team to win because we are not in a good position [MLS],” Messi added. “I know it’s another match, but it will help our morale.”
Hours after the match, fans marched around the area chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi”. Car horns blared outside parking lots. A fan told me he hoped Messi would stay here forever. Tonight’s memory is enough for now as far as we are concerned.