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Messi’s Inter Miami move ‘phenomenal’ and ‘game-changing’ for MLS, say former U.S. soccer stars

When Lionel Messi announced his intention to join Inter Miami CF, the World Cup winner ended years of speculation about the next chapter in his career

Lionel Messi is apparently leaving Paris Saint-Germain for Inter Miami.

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When Lionel Messi announced his intention to join Inter Miami CF earlier this week, the Argentine star ended years of speculation about the next chapter in his career after departing French giant Paris Saint-Germain. The announcement also thrust Major League Soccer firmly into the spotlight.

“Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our league,” MLS said in a statement Wednesday

Former U.S. national team star Eric Wynalda gave a more unequivocal assessment of Messi’s unique talents. “He’s the best player the world has ever seen,” he told MarketWatch on Thursday.

Wynalda holds the distinction of scoring the first-ever MLS goal in 1996, and went on to play over 100 games for the U.S. national team, including appearances at three World Cups. The former forward is excited to see Messi launch the next stage of his career in the South Florida sun.

Related: Messi says joining MLS’s Inter Miami ‘wasn’t about money’ after turning down $400 million from Saudi club

“The idea that [Messi] is going to play in MLS is phenomenal,” he said.

Messi’s former team, Barcelona FC, and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal were reportedly interested in signing the Argentina World Cup winner.

While some big-name overseas players have come to MLS to wind down their careers, Wynalda believes the 35-year-old Messi is still hungry to perform and achieve. “He’s still a competitor, he still wants to play,” he said. “He’s not 39 years old, he’s still able to run and play, he’s still talking about playing in [the] 2026 [World Cup].”

The timing of Messi’s intended move to Miami certainly fits in well with the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Wynalda, who hosts the “Counter Attack” show on SiriusXM, draws parallels between Messi’s expected arrival in MLS and hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s famous move from the Edmonton Oilers to the L.A. Kings in 1988. “When Gretzky came to L.A., he changed the way everybody looked at the NHL,” he told MarketWatch. “L.A. was a way for him to not just build his own brand and finish the story, but also build the NHL — when the L.A. Kings played on the road, it was the hottest ticket in town.”

Related: How Messi fits into Apple’s new strategy

“There’s a lot of similarities in how much [Gretzky and Messi] mean to their sport and how much they transcend the sport,” Wynalda added. “I think [Messi’s] going to be surprised by the spotlight he has created.”

Since making his debut for Barcelona in 2004, Messi has played all his club football in Europe. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner became a global icon during his time at the Camp Nou, before joining Paris Saint Germain in a blaze of publicity in 2021. The forward has scored 806 goals in 1,027 games for the two European giants and the Argentina national team, who he led to success at last year’s Qatar World Cup.

Former U.S. national team midfielder Cobi Jones described Messi’s intention to join Inter Miami as “extremely significant” in an interview with MarketWatch on Thursday. “You can see the world reacting to it,” he added.

Jones, who is the most capped U.S. men’s national team player, played in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and also racked up more than 300 appearances for the L.A. Galaxy of MLS. He is currently an MLS game analyst and broadcaster for Apple TV+.

If Messi’s Inter Miami deal is completed, Jones expects the profile of MLS to rise. “It brings more attention to MLS, and what MLS is trying to do,” he added. “We’re getting bigger, more exposure, it’s getting better.”

Also see: Apple scores MLS streaming rights for a reported $250 million a year

“It would be game-changing,” he added. “If this happens, I would be excited to see how it changes the game over the next five years in the U.S.”

In 2007, when England star David Beckham joined the L.A. Galaxy from Real Madrid, the league had just 13 teams, many of which were playing in American football stadiums. Since then, MLS has grown to 29 teams, the majority of which play in soccer-specific stadiums. Last year Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.22% and MLS announced a multiyear streaming-rights deal for matches, which are available exclusively on Apple TV+.

But to continue its growth, MLS needs to generate interest from people outside of soccer, according to Jones. “That builds your fanbase and [the] next generation of fans and future soccer players,” he told MarketWatch. “It just builds the game.”

Additional reporting from Weston Blasi.