Lionel Messi grabbed his first goal of the Major League Soccer season as he grabbed a 1-1 draw for Inter Miami with a stoppage-time equaliser at LA Galaxy.

Dejan Joveljic’s goal 15 minutes from time had looked like earning Galaxy the win.

But Messi popped up two minutes into added time, exchanging a pair of one-twos with Jordi Alba as he made his way into the box before lifting the ball over goalkeeper John McCarthy.

Inter dominated possession, but managed just five shots in target throughout the match as Galaxy came closest to breaking the deadlock.

Riqui Puig missed a golden opportunity after 13 minutes when his penalty was saved by Drake Callender.

They had to wait until late in the second half for Joveljic to tap in Mark Delgado’s cross after Puig’s shot had run loose.

Galaxy finished the game with 10 men as Marco Delgado picked up a second yellow card after 88 minutes.

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham had a front row seat as star man Lionel Messi put on a show in the Major League Soccer curtain raiser against Real Salt Lake.

The Manchester United and England great flew to Florida for the season opener and will have liked what he saw from Tata Martino’s ambitious team in Wednesday’s 2-0 win.

Messi put in a man-of-the-match display, producing some outrageous footwork, seeing a free-kick cleared off the line and hitting the bar directly from a corner before setting up Robert Taylor’s opener.

The 36-year-old received a half-time hug from Will Smith – one of the stars in attendance at upgraded Chase Stadium – and continued to play with an irresistible swagger.

While Miami lost their way as a team after their dominant first half, they dug deep and eventually killed off vastly improved RSL.

Messi showed brilliant strength, speed and close control to drive forward through the middle before playing in Luis Suarez, who set up Diego Gomez to score in the 83rd minute.

That moment gave Miami new life and the former Liverpool striker saw a debut goal brilliantly denied by Zac MacMath, who was guilty of allowing Taylor’s first-half strike to squirm past him.

Salt Lake’s goalkeeper also thwarted Messi at the end of an incredible run down the right as the hosts ended a challenging second half on a high.

In truth, the only person able to keep up with the Argentina skipper on Wednesday was his personal bodyguard, who went up and down the touchline tracking the star throughout the game.

Lionel Messi and new signing Luis Suarez are set to star as David Beckham-owned Inter Miami kick off Major League Soccer’s biggest season yet.

More eyes are on the United States and Canada’s top division than ever before as the league’s 29th season gets under way in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

It is MLS’ earliest ever start to a campaign and begins with a standalone fixture as Miami play host to Real Salt Lake at newly renamed, and freshly upgraded, Chase Stadium.

Not only is the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner fit for Wednesday’s opener but Suarez is expected to make his competitive debut following his winter switch to Florida from Brazilian side Gremio.

Messi will be involved having overcome the inflamed adductor issue that saw him miss a high-profile pre-season friendly in Hong Kong, sparking fury from expectant ticket-holders.

“They’re playing and they’re ready to play,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said of Messi and the former Liverpool striker.

“If they’re required to play 90 minutes, we’re going to look at it always depending on the need of the team.”

Suarez is the latest former Barcelona star to rock up in Miami, where he has joined Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

“It’s good, very positive,” left-back Alba said on the eve of the MLS opener. “When we got here we found a coach, players and staff who are spectacular. Like a family. They treat us very well.

“For Luis, besides the fact we’re friends, he is going to bring us a lot in attack and is a great player.

“(The younger players) always listen when we talk and we are here to give them advice. We all get along well.

“In all teams you have veterans and young players, building a positive environment for the benefit of the team.”

Messi, Busquets and Alba have already won their first trophy in Miami’s eye-catching pink kit, having roared to victory in the inaugural Leagues Cup last year.

The competition provided a memorable start to their life in North America and Alba is eyeing more silverware this term.

“We have a lot of big players but that doesn’t mean anything, you have to show what you can do,” the former Spain international said. “It is going to be hard.

“Hopefully we can win all the titles. I understand the fans’ enthusiasm and the expectations they have for the team, but we have to show it on the field and we think we’re on a good path.”

Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal’s Champions League history is irrelevant and challenged his side to prove they belong at the tournament’s business end as they prepare to face Porto in the last 16.

The Gunners are back in Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in seven years but have failed to progress past this stage since 2010.

Arsenal will be firm favourites at the Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday night as Arteta looks to go further in the Champions League than he ever managed as a player at the club.

“They (the players) know that we have not been in the competition for seven years,” the Spaniard said.

“Obviously some of them were here and they know the story and they know that what happened in the past is irrelevant, it is the challenge and ambition that we have now to go through.”

Asked if he felt it was a mental block that caused Arsene Wenger’s side to fall at the last-16 hurdle so many times, Arteta replied: “Someone called (Lionel) Messi was another obstacle as well!

“And Bayern Munich that we faced twice. This competition is what it is. Individual quality is extremely important. It comes down to details and you need your players at your best when the occasion arises.”

Arteta’s young squad had very little Champions League experience heading into a group stage they dominated, winning four games and progressing as winners with a fixture to spare.

Now the knockout stages present another chance for both manager and team to prove they belong at this level.

“We don’t have the experience, that’s the reality – 95 per cent of these players haven’t played this competition, they haven’t played the last 16.

“I haven’t (managed at this stage). But they have so much energy and enthusiasm to play well and that’s our desire and how we’re going to play the game.

“It’s great. We have earned the right to be here. It’s been seven years since we’ve been at the top table for these kind of matches and 14 years since we were able to go to the next stage.

“That’s the challenge. We know what is ahead of us, but we are very excited to face it and to go for it with full belief, that’s for sure.”

An extra incentive for Arsenal to banish past ghosts is the prospect of going all the way to just their second Champions League final, with Wembley playing host to the showpiece event this year.

“It should be incredible to have that feeling to lift that cup, in London, the first of June. It is there,” added Arteta.

“It is in our minds. It is a dream, but there are a lot of things you have to earn the right to do before that and tomorrow we have a big obstacle ahead of us. We are really looking forward to it.”

Footballers who are the victims of discrimination could have the opportunity to meet with the alleged perpetrator as part of a “first of its kind” restorative policy being launched by Major League Soccer and its players.

There are more eyes on football in the United States and Canada than ever before, thanks in no small part to Lionel Messi’s blockbuster move to Inter Miami last summer.

Ever-evolving MLS and the Major League Soccer Players Association have now launched a new jointly aligned anti-discrimination policy ahead of next week’s 2024 season kick-off.

The league says the policy “is the first of its kind in professional sports in that it is centred on restorative practices, prioritising education, prevention, training, and cultural awareness”.

Sola Winley, MLS’ chief engagement and inclusion officer, said: “To bring something like this to bear is no small task.

“It takes not just a lot of smart minds, but a lot of big hearts to think outside of the box, to build a culture that’s rooted in dignity and respect.

“And to build a culture that can be a leader not just in the soccer and football landscape around the world, but in the sports landscape and beyond.”

Eric Harrington, MLSPA general counsel, said: “By embracing culturally inclusive training to prevent discrimination and restorative practices to remedy it when it occurs, we can prevent discrimination and support players who are harmed by it while providing a pathway of healing for everyone.”

MLS, the MLSPA and non-profit Black Players for Change worked together on the development of the policy and a new intercultural awareness training programme, which is required for all players and staff.

New England Revolution goalkeeper and Black Players for Change president Earl Edwards Jr said: “All players deserve to play this game free of discrimination and to have our cultures welcomed, included and respected.

“This innovative policy is a significant step in building a more inclusive game for all of us and for setting an example for all of sports.”

Under the new policy, restorative plans include the option for an alleged offender to make amends with those harmed by their conduct.

 

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Furthermore, those that accept responsibility and partake in a restorative plan will face less severe discipline from the league than if they deny committing the act and are subsequently found to be untruthful or misleading.

“The players have an option to participate if they want to,” Winley added. “We’re not forcing that.

“Our hope is that there’s pathways to the players coming together, to apologise, for the players to hear the work that others have went through. We create that space and that environment for that to happen.”

‘Playing As One’ workshops ran during pre-season, with MLS greats involved in helping to, among other things, explain banned terms and develop cultural awareness in a league with 80-plus nationalities.

“What we’ve decided is that the best way for us to do that is to build bridges of understanding, have conversations that are based on curiosity,” Winley said.

“To give grace to people when they make mistakes but, to be clear, we are moving from a position of strength and not from a position of weakness. And to be compassionate doesn’t mean that you’re weak.

“It’s easy just to suspend people. The hard work is in the rehabilitation and reintegrating, and we have made a commitment to do the hard work.

“That might not always be preferred in a court of public opinion, but if we’re true to our values and if we’re true to the goals that we have, then we feel good about the process and feel very good about what the outcome of this will be.”

Lionel Messi returned to action for Inter Miami as he played the final 30 minutes of a pre-season friendly against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo.

Messi, who has been suffering with a hamstring injury, was an unused substitute as Inter Miami beat a Hong Kong XI 4-1 on Sunday, with local fans voicing their frustrations having turned up in numbers in expectation of seeing the eight-time Ballon D’Or winner in action.

David Beckham’s Major League Soccer side continued their pre-season build up in Japan and Argentina superstar Messi was able to resume training ahead of their latest friendly.

There was another injury worry for Miami, though, as midfielder Sergio Busquets was forced off with an ankle issue midway through the first half after being caught by a late tackle from Yuya Osako.

Just before half-time, Vissel forward Osako fired over from 10 yards in front of goal after Miami had lost possession when trying to playing out from the back.

The J1 League side went close again early in the second half when Brazil forward Jean Patric headed wide.

Messi came on for the final 30 minutes, replacing David Ruiz, and his introduction was met with loud cheers from fans all around the National Stadium.

Ryuho Kikuchi headed wide from a free-kick into the Miami penalty area, with Messi then forcing a late save from the Vissel goalkeeper and seeing his follow-up effort cleared off the line.

After the match finished goalless, the result was decided on a penalty shoot-out.

Vissel won 4-3 after Miami failed to convert any of their last three spot-kicks, with Messi not taking one.

Miami will now head back to the United States for a final warm-up match against Messi’s boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys in Fort Lauderdale.

The first match of the new MLS season is against Real Salt Lake on February 21.

Lionel Messi said it was a “shame” he could not play in Inter Miami’s pre-season friendly in Hong Kong on Sunday, with his absence leaving angry fans demanding a refund.

Messi, who has been suffering with a hamstring injury, was left on the bench as his side beat a Hong Kong XI 4-1, much to the anger of local fans who had turned up in numbers in expectation of seeing the eight-time Ballon D’Or winner.

Inter co-owner David Beckham was also greeted with boos at a post-match speech while the Hong Kong government later expressed its “deep disappointment” over Messi not playing and at organisers for “failing to provide a detailed explanation promptly”.

Beckham’s MLS side have since moved on to Japan where they will play Vissel Kobe on Wednesday and Argentina superstar Messi trained on Tuesday.

The World Cup winner said in a press conference shown on Sky Sports: “Unfortunately in football things can happen in any game, that we may have an injury. It happened to me.

“I couldn’t play in the Hong Kong match, and it was a shame because I always wanted to participate, I wanted to be there and even more so when it came to these matches.

“When we travelled so far and people were so excited to see our matches. I hope we can return and we play another game and I can play as I do whenever I can. But the truth is that it is a game that I was not able to participate.”

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham was booed and angry fans chanted for a refund after Lionel Messi did not play in a pre-season friendly in Hong Kong.

Messi, who has been suffering with a hamstring injury, was left on the bench as his side beat a Hong Kong XI 4-1.

In footage posted on social media, fans could be heard chanting “refund” before a post-match speech from Beckham was greeted with boos.

The Hong Kong government said match organisers Tatler Asia could face a reduction in funding.

“The Government today expressed deep disappointment over Messi not playing at Tatler XFEST Hong Kong, Hong Kong Team vs Inter Miami CF, and the organiser failing to provide a detailed explanation promptly,” the government said in a statement.

“The event has been awarded “M” Mark status, as well as a matching grant of 15 million [Hong Kong dollars; £1.5m] and a grant for venue of 1 million by The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC).

“The Government has also provided a variety of coordination and assistance, including venue arrangement and crowd management, in order to offer football fans a wonderful game and an opportunity to witness the world-class player showcasing his skills.

“Many Hong Kong fans looked forward to the match with enthusiasm, and a lot of tourists came to Hong Kong particularly for the match.

“The Government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed that Messi could neither play in the friendly match, nor explain to the fans in person upon request.

“The way that the organiser and Inter Miami CF handled the situation could not meet the expectations of the fans who showed strong support to Messi, especially those visitors who came all the way here for the match.

“The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and the MSEC will rely on the terms and conditions of the agreement in requiring the organiser to take responsibility, including a reduction of the amount of funding as a result of Messi being not able to play in the match.”

Over the course of the last decade, football has grown substantially in the Dominican Republic. The founding of the professional Liga Dominicana de Futbol paved the way for a new era of the sport in the Caribbean country.

At the national team level, the fruits of that labour are apparent, evidenced by their runner-up finish in the 2022 Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship, which not only qualified Dominican Republic for a first World Cup in any age group, but also punched their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The growth of football in the Dominican Republic is also taking shape in the international arena at the club level. Since 2018, there have been four instances in which a team from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country have qualified for the Concacaf Champions Cup, the latest being Moca FC, who will participate in this year’s edition.

Moca are set to make their Champions Cup debut next month, when they lock horns with Major League Soccer (MLS) side Nashville SC in Round One. This, as a result of their third-place finish in last year’s Concacaf Caribbean Cup.

The history of Dominican teams in the Champions Cup actually stretches back to 1973 when Universidad Catolica became the first club from the country to compete in the tournament. Then, Universidad Catolica squared off in the First Round of the Caribbean Zone with eventual champions SV Transvaal of Suriname and lost 0-8 and 0-6.

Nearly two decades later in 1992, San Cristobal FC got their first crack at Champions Cup and defeated Unique FC of the US Virgin Islands 5-4 on aggregate in the Preliminary Round of the Caribbean Zone thanks to a 2-1 win and 3-3 stalemate.

San Cristobal FC’s run ended shortly after when they went down 3-4 on aggregate to Guadeloupe’s Solidarite Scolaire, based on a 3-3 stalemate and 1-0 loss.

San Cristobal returned to Champions Cup three years later in 1995, but suffered a 1-2 defeat on aggregate to Haiti’s FICA in the First Round of the Caribbean Zone.

After a lull, Dominican Republic teams returned to the Champions Cup arena, courtesy of Cibao FC, who won the 2017 Concacaf Caribbean Club Championship.

Despite a heavy 0-7 aggregate defeat to eventual champions and Mexican giants Chivas in the Round of 16 of the 2018 Champions Cup, Cibao FC’s qualification showed that Dominican Republic football was on the rise.

A year later, Atletico Pantoja followed suit in the 2019 edition of the Champions Cup and exited at the Round of 16 after a 0-5 aggregate loss to New York Red Bulls. Atletico Pantoja then made their second appearance in the tournament in 2021 and made history against five-time Concacaf champions Monterrey.

Even though they were eliminated 1-6 on aggregate Lisandro Cabrera scored the club’s first Champions Cup goal when he found the back of the net in the second half of the return leg.

Now in 2024, an opportunity exists for debutants Moca FC, to blaze a new trail and rewrite the history books with victory over Nashville SC, which would book them a Round of 16 date with Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami.

 

When the Draw for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup took place last month, players from qualified teams to contest Round one waited with bated breath to see where in the bracket their team would be placed.

In fact, much of the anxiety around the announcement was focused on which Round One winner would advance to face last year’s Leagues Cup Champions Inter Miami –the team of Argentina superstar Lionel Messi –in the Round of 16.

In the end, the draw pooled another Major League Soccer (MLS) Nashville SC and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC as Round one opponents, and the two will crosswords to decide who will oppose Messi’s side in the Round of 16.

For Moca’s striker Gustavo Ascona, who is an Argentinian by birth, defeating Nashville and playing against Messi would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Playing against Messi would be my life’s dream, like for any Argentine. I went home for vacation at the holidays and everyone in my hometown was talking about me playing against Messi. It’s crazy, and it would be a dream. You really can’t describe it any other way,” Ascona said in a recent interview with Concacaf.com.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground, work hard in the first game, get the biggest advantage possible that we can get here at home and later we’ll see what happens,” he added.

Ascona is well aware that getting by their Round one opponents Nashville is no easy feat, but at the same time, he believes the task is by no means impossible, provided Moca executes efficiently against the 2023 Leagues Cup runners-up.

He recalled Haitian club Violette’s victory over MLS side Austin FC in last season Round of 16 as proof that Caribbean teams can get the job done.

“We know that it (Nashville) is a really difficult opponent. We know what kind of league they play in, but we have confidence in ourselves. We know what we can give, and sometimes football brings surprises. Just look at what Violette did last season. Why can’t we repeat that?” Ascona asked rhetorically.

The 36-year-old attacker enjoyed good form for Moca in the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup, as he scored four goals over the course of eight games. It took a last-second equalizer by eventual champions Robinhood of Suriname, to defeat Moca FC in the semi-final.

However, Ascona and company were still able to secure a coveted spot in the Champions Cup with victory over Jamaican club Harbour View in the third-place decider.

“It was really hard, because we had other objectives and we had the game in Suriname in which they scored in the last minute, and we lost in penalties. That was a tough blow. But we regrouped to try to get that last spot, we set out to make it ours and we got it, so it was satisfying,” Ascona shared.

“It was hard and tough to keep a positive mindset because we had come off of losing another final in the domestic league here. It was really tough in Jamaica. It was a positive to get a win there and then manage the game here, but they fought until the very end,” he noted.

Reaching the Champions Cup was also a historical moment for Moca, as it marked the first ever Champions Cup qualification for the club. They now join Cibao FC and Atletico Pantoja as Dominican Republican clubs to achieve the feat in recent years.

That accomplishment and, by extension, the responsibility as the country’s lone representative on this occasion, is something that Ascona doesn’t take lightly.

“The truth is that when one arrives to a team, you always think about making history, in leaving something. This is my third year with Moca and thankfully things are going well for me. Now we’ll just see if we can keep progressing in this stage that we are in and play against some of the other big clubs in the tournament,” Ascona reasoned.

“It’s really wonderful to have that responsibility of being the only Dominican team in this tournament. I think every fan of Dominican football is going to be following that game, so we are going to have the support of a lot of people,” he ended.

Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi became the first player to score 400 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues on this day in 2019.

Messi reached the landmark in his 435th league game for Barcelona, a 3-0 win against Eibar at Camp Nou in a season where he would win his 10th and final La Liga title.

“The figures speak for themselves,” Messi’s coach at the time, Ernesto Valverde, said after the match.

“We don’t know if anyone will ever get close to those statistics but he is unbelievable.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, who throughout his career has vied with Messi to be regarded as the greatest player of their generation, was the first to score 400 goals in Europe’s top five leagues.

The Portuguese star reached the landmark in October 2018 but it took him 63 more appearances to achieve it, and his goals were spread across the English, Spanish and Italian top flights.

At the time Messi reached 400 goals, he had scored 31 hat-tricks for Barcelona, including four occasions where he scored four.

By the time Messi announced his departure from Barcelona in an emotional farewell in August 2021, he had scored an all-time record 474 La Liga goals.

Salary restrictions meant Barca could not afford to keep him, and he moved on to Paris St Germain before joining Inter Miami last summer.

Messi sealed his legacy as one of the all-time greats by leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in 2022.

Luis Suarez's performances for Gremio show he would have few problems in adapting to Major League Soccer if he joins Inter Miami, says former Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Suarez is reportedly in talks with Miami over a move which would see him reunited with former Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

The Uruguayan is seemingly closing in on a one-year deal with the MLS outfit after spending 2023 with Gremio, who finished second to Palmeiras in their first season back in Brazil's top flight, having spent the previous campaign in the second tier. 

Suarez scored 17 league goals for Gremio throughout the year, also adding 11 assists to give him the most total goal involvements (28) in the Brasileirao.

The striker, who will turn 37 in January, hit 27 goals across all competitions before departing as a free agent, and recently retired defender Chiellini says he would thrive in MLS.

"You see what Suarez did this year in Brazil… Brazil is not considered a weak league," Chiellini, who was famously bitten by Suarez at the 2014 World Cup, told Stats Perform. 

"Suarez scored almost 30 goals, we still see something there and it's still really good. Now football is changing all over the world. 

"There are less differences between some leagues in Europe and other countries. The only league that's very different from every other one, I think, is the Premier League. 

"But to be honest, the other ones we can compare, and you can also find good players in some weird leagues that some years ago you never considered. Now it is very different."

Lionel Messi's arrival at Inter Miami has brought more attention to MLS, with Giorgio Chiellini hailing the impact of the World Cup winner and likening his move to when David Beckham arrived.

Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star Beckham left the Spanish capital for LA Galaxy in 2007 as the dazzling midfielder's move captured the imaginations of many in the United States.

Beckham has since retired and created his own MLS franchise in the USA, bringing the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba to his newly established Miami side.

Juventus great Chiellini also joined MLS, signing for Los Angeles FC, winning the MLS Cup Final last year before defeat in this season's edition on Saturday to Columbus Crew.

And he vouched for the impact of Messi's move to Miami.

"I think that when Messi joined it was comparable to when Beckham joined," Chiellini told Stats Perform.

"And it's something that the league, but also the players, are very happy about because there is a lot of possibility for the future.

"What Messi did was huge for everyone and now there is much more consideration for the league, much more attention and it helps everyone."

Former Italy centre-back Chiellini announced his retirement on Monday, with reports suggesting the 39-year-old will move back to Juventus to take up a boardroom role.

The European Championship-winning defender will at least be thankful he does not have to face Beckham's Miami again next season.

A Messi-inspired Miami powered to a Leagues Cup triumph, with the Argentina captain scoring 10 goals.

"I don't know how every team could face and beat Miami next year," Chiellini added on Miami, who are reportedly close to signing former Barcelona and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez.

"Fortunately this year I met with Messi when they were at the bottom of the table and then he had one month out.

"They were still a really good team, it was one of the best nights and atmospheres. That's very good for the league, very good for the future of the league."

Lionel Messi has been consulted by Lionel Scaloni as the Argentina head coach ponders his future in charge of the national team.

Scaloni led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar last year, and in February, signed a contract keeping him at the helm through to the 2026 World Cup.

That tournament will be co-hosted by the United States, where next year's Copa America takes place.

Reigning Copa champions Argentina were placed in Group A in Thursday's draw. They will take on Peru, Chile, and either Canada or Trinidad and Tobago. 

However, there is doubt over Scaloni's future, with the 45-year-old unsure as to how long he will continue in his role, and he confirmed in the wake of the draw that he has held talks with Argentina captain and talisman Messi.

"I spoke with Leo, we are going to talk again in a few days and from there we are going to make a decision, the best decision for the Argentina national team which is the most important thing," Scaloni told beIN SPORTS.

"There's nothing wrong with the AFA leadership. My doubts are not in that area, but from something football-related, thinking about what's coming and feeling good and about being ready for it.

"The bar is high and we need a lot of energy and for everyone to understand what's coming. It is a personal decision and that of the coaching staff."

In an interview with TyC, Scaloni explained: "In principle, I am here because I am the coach. I said it after the match against Brazil that it is a personal moment to think. It is important after everything that we have achieved. We have to think about everything that is coming and see what we can do.

"The players are very good, the team is very good, they need a coach who is good, with all the energy. I said it and I repeat it, they need a coach who is at their level. It is time to think. I still think the same.

"It is necessary to do things well, with someone who is 100 per cent focused, who knows what is coming. Important things are coming, very demanding."

Argentina will take on either Canada or Trinidad and Tobago on June 20 in Atlanta, before heading to New Jersey to face Chile. Their final group match, against Peru, will take place in Miami, where Messi now plays, on June 29.

Gerardo Martino is an excellent man-manager and would have made Inter Miami MLS Cup contenders had a Lionel Messi-inspired Herons been able to gatecrash this year's playoffs.

That is the view of Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, who played under the former Barcelona boss when he coached Mexico's national team between 2019 and 2022.

Having guided Atlanta United to the MLS Cup in 2018, Martino became Miami boss in July as the David Beckham-owned franchise brought in former Barcelona trio Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. 

Those arrivals immediately led to an upturn for Miami, who won the Leagues Cup in August following a series of mesmerising displays from Messi, but they were unable to force their way into the playoffs.

Messi only made four regular-season starts for Miami this year as the Argentina great battled a niggling injury, and the Herons ultimately finished nine points adrift of the Eastern Conference's wild card spots.

Miami will certainly be among the favourites to enjoy a postseason run in 2024, and Herrera feels their rivals were slightly fortunate to see them fall short this campaign.

Asked what makes Martino special as a coach, Herrera told Stats Perform: "I think his personality and the work he does on every team he has.

"That is what has made him win so many things and be so well-known in the world of football. 

"Personally, he is a coach who has helped me a lot, I have a great relationship with him and I love the way he plays. 

"He has shown it with every team he has had and until today at Inter Miami he gave another face to the team and got better results. 

"We knew that if they entered the playoffs, they were going to be one of the favourite teams and were going to compete for the championship."

Herrera fell just short of reaching the MLS Cup Final after the Dynamo were defeated by Los Angeles FC, who will face Columbus Crew following their comeback victory over Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati.

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