Inter Miami celebrated Lionel Messi’s eighth Ballon d’Or on Friday, though their friendly match, meant to commemorate the achievement, concluded with a 2-1 loss to MLS rivals New York City FC.
Despite the defeat in a game involving two teams no longer in contention for the MLS championship, the night remained festive. Messi expressed gratitude to fans for their warm welcome in Florida, where the DRV PNK stadium was nearly filled with supporters chanting “Messi! Messi!” despite the club’s MLS season ending last month.
“Thank you for being here, for this beautiful tribute,” Messi said after raising the trophy he’d collected in Paris last month. “I have been here for a short time, but it seems like a lot of time.
“I want to thank all the people of Miami, not only those who are here, but in the city in general, for the treatment I and my family have received during this time.
“They showed me a lot of affection, they made me feel at home.”
The 36-year-old icon received an enthusiastic welcome upon joining Inter Miami in July, propelling the struggling franchise to the Leagues Cup title in August, a tournament featuring MLS and Mexican league clubs.
Making his MLS regular season debut on August 26, Messi, a second-half substitute, scored a goal in Inter’s 2-0 victory against New York Red Bulls, ending an 11-match winless streak. Hindered by a late-season leg injury, he couldn’t guide Miami into the MLS Cup playoffs.
Despite this, Messi has energized the US league, evident in increased jersey sales, a surge in MLS season pass subscriptions, and heightened ticket sales at Miami’s matches. Despite fans chanting for him in Friday’s match, Messi couldn’t secure an equalizer as NYCFC claimed victory with goals from Talles Magno and Julian Fernandez.
Messi’s recent Ballon d’Or recognizes accomplishments predating his MLS move, notably his outstanding performances at the previous year’s World Cup in Qatar, where he scored seven goals and was named the tournament’s best player, leading Argentina to victory.
Looking ahead, Messi expressed his ambition to build on Miami’s Leagues Cup triumph in the upcoming season, defending the title while also competing in the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions Cup alongside their MLS campaign.
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