The most recognizable team in Major League Soccer concluded its preseason trip around the world, which saw the team fly over 23,000 miles and took them from Miami to El Salvador, Dallas, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Japan.
The tour was set up by Inter Miami in an effort take advantage of the legendary soccer players that they have on the team, specifically Lionel Messi. The world tour was hyped everywhere like the team was soccer’s version of The Beatles, and even Major League Soccer helped by placing the matches on MLS Season Pass.
However, while this was expected to be a showcase of one of the greatest players ever and a team that is destined to compete for several trophies this year, including MLS Cup, it was anything but. Instead, it became a disaster the likes we haven’t seen since attempts to host a music festival on a remote island turned into the biggest farce of all time.
Before the tour even started, the young USMNT midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi was held back from the tour, where he ultimately underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia. He’s out for 2-3 months. Inter Miami started out their tour on the road against El Salvador, where they played Los Catrachos to a scoreless draw. In the process, they lost midfielder Facundo Farías to a torn ACL, further depleting the midfield core.
They then returned to the United States to play FC Dallas at the Cotton Bowl, in a match that they thought would get close to filling the 92,000-seat historic stadium. Instead, in a monsoon, only 32,000 showed, and FC Dallas were the victors by a 1-0 score.
So, down two midfielders, the team made their anticipated trip to Saudi Arabia, where they played 2 matches to open up the brand new Kingdom Arena. They went down 3-0 to Al Hilal before tying the match in what was the most exciting match of Miami’s preseason. Lionel Messi notched his first goal via the penalty spot, much to the delight of the 26,000 in attendance. However, Al Hilal would win 4-3 on a game-winner scored just a couple minutes after Messi exited the match.
A few days later, in a match that was billed as the final competitive match between Lionel Messi and fellow legend of the game Cristiano Ronaldo, Inter Miami took on Al Nassr. However, Cristiano Ronaldo was ruled out of the match due to an injury and Messi started on the bench. Al Nassr took it to Miami, pummeling them 6-0 and forcing Messi to ake an appearance in the 75th minute after Al Nassr’s sixth goal hit the back of the net.
The best match for Inter Miami on the field came on their trip to Hong Kong, as they defeated a Hong Kong Best XI, 4-1. However, the story of the match was that Lionel Messi did not play, held out of that match despite being available due to an inflamed adductor muscle. That did not sit well with the 38,417 in attendance or the Hong Kong government, who demanded an explanation on what they felt was a bait and switch.
Messi was also expected to play against Vissel Kobe, who are managed by longtime Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta. However, like the other matches, problems emerged with this production. MLS announced that the production quality at the stadium would not allow for them to broadcast the match on MLS Season Pass, which meant that for most of the world, the match would not be on television. Then, during a press conference in the days leading up to the match, Lionel Messi admitted that the pressure of the world tour left him exhausted. “I’m a little tired from this whole tour, [I have] a desire to finish up the last game and to return home,” he said.
Like most of the other matches, it was a dud on the field for Miami, as they had another scoreless loss and lost 4-3 on penalties. The biggest blow of the entire preseason may have come 25 minutes into that match, when Sergio Busquets suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury and had to be subbed off. Other former Barcelona stars like Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez looked gassed mentally and physically, logging heavy minutes throughout the preseason trip and not offering much production.
So, Inter Miami returns home to prepare for the 2024 MLS season. They have one more friendly on February 15 against Newell’s Old Boys, Lionel Messi’s boyhood club, at DRV PNK Stadium before they have their season opener, six days later. They will also have Concacaf Champions Cup beginning next month.
It remains to be seen whether the tour prepared this team for the hectic calendar, but it did them no favors on their performance. Inter Miami has the highest of expectations, and their preseason tour was the worst possible beginning.
And unfortunately, it was on display for the world to see.