Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumphs in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to the MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put the MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumph in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on the MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Lionel Messi is close to an agreement to join MLS franchise Inter Miami at the end of the 2022-23 European season, according to a report in The Times.

The Argentina superstar is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the campaign and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, whom he left in 2021, but The Times reports Messi will instead move to MLS.

Inter Miami are said to be 'confident' Messi will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Co-owned by David Beckham, Inter Miami will reportedly make Messi the highest-paid player in MLS history and they are considering further additions to complement his arrival.

Luis Suarez and Cesc Fabregas, Messi's former team-mates at Barcelona, are specifically named as options, the former having enjoyed a brief second stint Uruguayan side Nacional earlier this year while Fabregas is in the Italian second tier with Como.

A move for Messi would occur midway through the MLS season, which begins in February, and would provide a huge boost to North American soccer ahead of the World Cup in 2026, which the USA will host alongside Canada and Mexico.

Cristiano Ronaldo's departure from Manchester United this week has put plenty of clubs on alert.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is a wanted commodity, given his quality and sudden availability.

Ronaldo and United parted ways with a mutual termination of his contract after his explosive interview with TalkTV.

 

TOP STORY – SAUDI AND BRAZILIAN GIANTS TO MOVE FOR RONALDO

Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal and Brazilian giants Flamengo are among the clubs queuing to sign free agent Cristiano Ronaldo according to reports.

Sky Sports claims that Al Hilal are exploring a deal with the Portuguese, who had declined a £305m bid from an unnamed Saudi Arabian club in the off-season.

Brazilian outlet Veja reports that the 2022 Copa Libertadores winners intend to formalize a proposal to Ronaldo's representatives, although an offer has not yet been made, nor have talks commenced.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Football Insider reports that Chelsea are set to open talks with Brighton and Hove Albion's Belgian forward Leandro Trossard with his contract to expire at the end of season. New Blues boss Graham Potter knows Trossard well from his time at Brighton.

- Chelsea are ready to swoop for Manchester United target Diogo Costa, having made contact with him, according to Relevo. The goalkeeper recently re-signed with Porto and has a €75 million (£64.5m) release clause in his contract.

- Amid talk that Chelsea will try to sell Romelu Lukaku at the end of this season, SkySport claims Inter will extend the Belgian forward's loan for another year.

- Torino's Ivorian defender Wilfried Singo could snub interest from Juventus to remain with his current club, reports Calciomercato.

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Scottish champions Celtic are in talks with Canada international Alistair Johnston, with personal terms already being discussed. The right-back is currently with MLS club Montreal.

- QPR are anticipating the departure of manager Michael Beale to take over Rangers, claims Talk Sport. The Gers sacked Giovanni van Bronckhorst earlier this week.

Cristiano Ronaldo's second spell at Manchester United officially came to an end on Tuesday.

United confirmed the Portugal superstar has departed Old Trafford by mutual consent, despite having six months to run on his contract.

The news comes a week on from an explosive interview in which Ronaldo declared he feels "betrayed" by United and expressed his lack of respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

While the World Cup will be top of the agenda for Ronaldo in the weeks ahead, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner must also now find a new club for the start of next year.

Which team he joins, though, remains difficult to predict.

Having unsuccessfully pushed to join a Champions League club prior to the start of the season, a return to Europe's elite competition may prove difficult once more.

However, now he is officially a free agent, that may change the situation.

Here, Stats Perform has taken a look at some potential destinations for the 37-year-old, with options both in Europe and further afield.

MLS

With the MLS season recently concluding, a move to North America would present Ronaldo with a clean slate for 2023 and would help to boost the profile of the league ahead of the World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

Ronaldo would absolutely require a Designated Player spot for any franchise looking to make a move, eliminating a number of clubs from the equation, but David Beckham's Inter Miami have been attributed with a strong interest.

Interestingly enough, Inter Miami have also been heavily touted for a move for Lionel Messi, who sees his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expire at the end of the season. Will the two greats ever line up in the same side?

 

Sporting

Ronaldo's return to United was not as successful as fans would have wanted, but there could be better fortunes for the superstar if he returns to his homeland to rejoin boyhood club Sporting CP, where he began his career.

His initial stint with Sporting was short, with United making the move to secure his services less than a year after he made his first-team debut, which means there is not a high bar to reach from his previous spell at the club.

Sporting would also likely be able to offer Ronaldo Champions League football next season, though it would be more Europa League football this term after their third third-place finish in Group D of the Champions League.

Saudi Arabia

It has been widely reported that the only offers United received in the previous transfer window for Ronaldo's services came from Saudi Arabia, with Al Hilal said to have offered him a whopping £2million-a-week contract, with an offer from Al-Nassr also rejected.

Saudi Football Federation president Al-Misehal stated in September he believes further offers will be made to Ronaldo, with the Middle East region potentially looking to capitalise on the increased focus following the World Cup in Qatar.

While a move to Saudi would be the most lucrative for Ronaldo, it would be seen as a significant step down for him in competitiveness and one he will probably avoid.

Bayern Munich

One of the clubs linked with Ronaldo in the previous window, Bayern executives publicly stated it was not a transfer that was under consideration and the Portugal international does not fit their 'philosophy'.

However, reports have suggested Bayern held talks with Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, earlier this month before details of his explosive interview were revealed, perhaps indicating a change in the club's stance.

Bayern have seen Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting excel this season following Robert Lewandowski's sale to Barcelona, though the contract of the striker is due to expire at the end of the season and the capture of a new – and higher-profile – forward could be on the cards.

Chelsea

Ronaldo's expected departure from United does not necessarily mean he will wave goodbye to the Premier League, with Chelsea continuing to be linked with a move to snatch the 37-year-old from their domestic rivals.

New owner Todd Boehly was widely reported to have explored the possibility of a move ahead of the season but Thomas Tuchel was against the proposal – and his sacking earlier this year may have changed the situation at Stamford Bridge.

It would, however, be a surprise if Graham Potter supported the move considering his history of developing young players, while he has not appeared to be keen on the high-earning forward he already has at his disposal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Honourable mentions

Paris Saint-Germain: With Kylian Mbappe reportedly pushing for a move, PSG could have a spot available for a new superstar and the allure of partnering him with Messi could be difficult to turn down.

Napoli: Top of Serie A and heading into the World Cup break on the back of an 11-match win streak, Napoli are flying high and do not necessarily need Ronaldo – but he may be the final piece of the puzzle to bring the Scudetto to Naples.

Newcastle United: Eddie Howe's side have excelled this season and are pushing for European football, which Ronaldo could propel them towards as well as standing out as a marquee addition for the Saudi-owned side.

Liverpool are reportedly the favourites to land prized Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham after rumours that Real Madrid are not willing to meet the €150million asking price.

Bellingham, 19, has emerged as one of the top prospects in world football, scoring in four consecutive games to begin his side's Champions League campaign this season, including one against Manchester City.

Already with 17 caps for England, Bellingham is expected to play a major role at the World Cup and a virtuoso performance could sway some of the world's biggest clubs into bidding what would be a world-record fee for an Englishman.

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID SCOFF AT BELLINGHAM ASKING PRICE, LEAVING DOOR AJAR FOR LIVERPOOL

According to a report from Sport, Bellingham is Real Madrid's priority signing at the end of the season, but they have no intention of meeting Dortmund's initial valuation.

Madrid are said to be Bellingham's preference as well, and the club will try to negotiate the final price down to what they deem a more acceptable figure.

Liverpool have no qualms with what would be a club-record signing, and previous reports claim Manchester United also feel they are in with a chance once they get Cristiano Ronaldo's contract off their books.

ROUND-UP

- According to Mundo Deportivo, Paris Saint-Germain have been in communication with Milan's Rafael Leao, although they have not been able to agree on personal terms yet.

- Calciomercato is reporting Leicester City have joined Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen in the chase for 28-year-old Inter left-back Robin Gosens.

- MLS teams may be able to afford Cristiano Ronaldo after the league agreed to a $250m television rights deal with Apple TV, per iNews.

- Mundo Deportivo is reporting Atletico Madrid have strong interest in Braga forward Abel Ruiz, and wish to bring him to the club in a loan deal in January that includes a compulsory buy-clause.

- According to El Observador, 20-year-old Uruguayan talent Facundo Pellistri could leave Manchester United in January in search of first-team football.

Cristiano Ronaldo's time at Manchester United is surely up. 

Following an explosive interview with Piers Morgan in which the superstar forward said he feels "betrayed" by senior figures at Old Trafford and does not respect manager Erik ten Hag, Ronaldo's departure seems certain.

Having tried and failed to join a new club in the past transfer window, Ronaldo may be granted his wish in January once the World Cup is done and dusted.

If that is the case, there are only a few likely destinations for the Portugal international, who is reportedly eager to continue his career at the highest level despite turning 38 in February.

 

Napoli

A return to Serie A has been touted for Ronaldo, with Napoli being named as potential suitors earlier this year after losing attacking spearheads Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens. Whether the that remains the case, with Luciano Spalletti's side eight points clear at the Serie A summit, remains to be seen.

But in Ronaldo's three years in Italy with Juventus, no player scored more Serie A goals than his tally of 81 and, despite spending the past year and a half with United, only Ciro Immobile (117) has scored more Serie A goals since 2018.

Napoli would certainly match Ronaldo's aspirations, with Champions League football post-Christmas to look forward to and a first Scudetto since the glory days of Diego Maradona a realistic target. However, the club's finances and the forward's wage demands may prove to be restrictive.

Chelsea

Finances will certainly not be a problem for Chelsea, who are at somewhat of a crossroads following Todd Boehly's takeover earlier this year. The American billionaire is said to have previously met with Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes, but no transfer went through in August.

Thomas Tuchel has since been replaced by Graham Potter in the Stamford Bridge dugout, though, and while the Englishman may not be on board with the idea of signing another ageing attacker, Boehly will very much have the final say.

Whether Ronaldo would accept a move to a Premier League rival, even if his reputation at Old Trafford has plummeted in recent months, is the biggest question regarding any hopes the Blues may have in signing the Portuguese. There is also then the small matter of United agreeing to offload to a domestic rival midway through the campaign, with both sides battling for a top-four finish.

Sporting CP

With a United homecoming already under his belt, could Sporting secure a sensational return of their own and bring Ronaldo back to where it all began? It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility – especially as he enters the final six months of his United contract.

Ronaldo had just a single season in the senior squad with Sporting before he moved to United, so he may feel he has unfinished business – and it is a side that can definitely compete, having ended a 20-year barren spell without a league title in the 2020-21 season.

That said, Sporting have endured a difficult campaign this time around as they sit fourth in the Primeira Liga and have exited the Champions League. As head coach Ruben Amorim recently stated, however, there is no harm in dreaming of seeing CR7 in the famous green and white strip once again.

 

Real Madrid

Another possible return destination... could Ronaldo wind back up in the Spanish capital?

The Champions League winners are hardly in need of another superstar forward, given they already have the world's best player in Karim Benzema, but bringing Ronaldo back to the club where he scored 450 goals would surely appeal to president Florentino Perez, who is never shy in his attempts to make statement signings.

Madrid missed out on Kylian Mbappe earlier this year, much to their frustration, and having Ronaldo in their side would undoubtedly provide some depth up top until the PSG forward is further into the new, three-year contract he signed with the French club in May.

MLS

Champions League football has been documented as the reason for Ronaldo's strong desire to leave United but, if such offers are not forthcoming, could a move to MLS be on the cards? 

Financial rules and designated player spots would make a switch complicated, with there only being a handful of teams likely to be able to make a move possible – likely to be those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

With the 2026 World Cup taking place in North America, bringing Ronaldo to MLS would raise the profile of the league further – and would undoubtedly be the biggest acquisition for the league since David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007.

That move marked the start of a new era of soccer in the US and has evolved considerably since, though Ronaldo's arrival would send things to a completely new level.

Phil Neville says it is "hypothetical" to discuss the prospect of Lionel Messi joining Inter Miami.

Messi is only under contract with Paris Saint-Germain until the end of the season and the mercurial forward has been strongly linked with a move to Miami.

Barcelona are also said to be keen to bring Messi back to Camp Nou in what would be a sensational return to a club he made a tearful farewell to in August 2021.

Inter head coach Neville, who signed a new contract on Monday, spoke of his admiration for Messi but refused to be drawn on speculation that he could move to Major League Soccer.

Asked about the possibility of signing Messi, the former Manchester United defender said: "I think that's hypothetical really. The best player in the world, I'm looking forward to seeing him play at the World Cup, alongside other great players.

"We actually let him inside our house about five, six weeks ago, when Argentina were here. I watched all the sessions to see those great players on our pitch one and pitch two. It was something really special for the club.

"And I think when you talk about characters, when you talk about humility, when you talk about the right type of people, that Argentinian squad and staff were absolutely incredible. Incredible towards our football club.

"We had a little scrimmage against them, the MLS 2 [MLS Next Pro] side, you obviously saw the pictures of their players signing autographs; signing arms, signing legs, signing shoes. It was just the most incredible week.

"I think we're really lucky here. We've had Barcelona here, we've had Argentina here, we've got the US national women's team here now, some of the players are training out there now. It's brilliant for this football club, and it shows the level of facility that we've got.

"I'm not going to speculate on any kind of transfer activity, but what I would say is that is exactly the type of character that I saw in that week, that those Argentinian players were a credit to their country, and to their profession."

Inter sporting director Chris Henderson also gave little away when quizzed about potentially bringing Messi to Florida.

He said: "I knew Messi would come up. It's great to be connected with amazing players and our club connected with that. I don't want to comment on someone who's not on our roster and speculation and rumours.

"But obviously, one of the greatest players to ever play the game. As far as the roster and what we're looking to improve for going for next year. I think continuing to look for players who are good in possession under pressure in the final third."

Henderson added: "Messi on any team in the world is going to change that team. I don't want to speculate and talk about him on our team, but he changes every league, every team that he plays for."

Los Angeles FC's MLS Cup hero Gareth Bale admitted it has been "mentally difficult" to maintain focus ahead of the World Cup.

The tournament starts in Qatar on November 20, with Bale set to lead Wales out in only their second appearance at the tournament.

Bale left Real Madrid to join LAFC on a free transfer midway through the 2022 MLS season in July, though has managed just two starts for the team, accumulating only 370 minutes on the pitch.

The 33-year-old was LAFC's hero on Saturday, however, as he came on from the bench to score an extra-time equaliser to make it 3-3 in the MLS Cup against Philadelphia Union and, despite Steve Cherundolo's side having had goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau sent off, they went on to win on penalties.

Bale's full attention can now turn to being fit to feature for Wales in their first World Cup match – coincidentally against the United States – on November 21, with England and Iran also in their group, though the former Tottenham and Madrid star acknowledged it has been tough to shirk off fitness concerns prior to the tournament.

"I'm feeling better and better as time goes on. I've had a few setbacks, a slight knock a few weeks ago that kept me out for 10 days," Bale said in a press conference.

"It's been difficult mentally, leading into the World Cup – you see so many players dropping out, missing the World Cup.

"So it has been difficult mentally, I'm sure it has been for a lot of players, leading into this World Cup, so for sure it's been in the back of my mind trying to make sure I'm a 100 per cent fit.

"I felt good enough to come on and help the team, and happy to see us lift the trophy."

Asked if he was fully fit, Bale said: "I'm not 100 per cent at the moment, still coming back, have a few little issues like most players do, but we spoke about, that if I was needed for the last 20, 30 minutes, then I'm available.

"I was able to come on and give as much as I can, glad I came up with the goal. That's what I'm here to do, I guess."

Bale's goal against Philadelphia – a brilliant header in the eighth minute of stoppage time at the end of extra-time – was his third for LAFC, though his first since August.

"It's been a difficult transition, trying to catch up, it's been difficult, especially with relocating with my family," Bale added.

"I've tried to stay as fit as I can, to help the team on and off the pitch, it's all worth it when you have moments like today. The most important thing was the target to win the MLS Cup, we've done that."

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo hailed Gareth Bale for his last-gasp equaliser and substitute goalkeeper John McCarthy for his shoot-out heroics amid the chaos of Saturday's MLS Cup triumph.

Cherundolo's side clinched the MLS Cup with a 3-0 penalty shoot-out win over Philadelphia Union after the game had ended 3-3 following regulation and added time in a incredibly dramatic final at Banc of California Stadium.

LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was sent off in the 116th minute and left with a suspected broken leg for a last-man foul after a nightmare back-pass from Jesus Murillo.

After a lengthy delay for treatment for Crepeau, Union took the lead in the 124th minute from Jack Elliott's close-range finish, but substitute Bale sent it to penalties with a 128th-minute headed equaliser.

Bale, who has only made two starts in 13 appearances for LAFC since his move from Real Madrid in June, had been brought on in the 97th minute before his crucial intervention.

"He's a guy with big qualities and a guy who makes big plays," Cherundolo told reporters about 33-year-old Wales international Bale.

"Let's hope he doesn't in the first game of the World Cup for all the Americans in the room [Wales play USA]. But it's Gareth being Gareth. He does it in training. He's done it this season.

"When he's feeling well and healthy, he makes a difference in games. That's why we bring him in in those moments. I wish he was 24."

Bale, who scored twice in Madrid's 3-1 triumph over Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final, was delighted to make his contribution with LAFC down to 10 men.

"It's always nice to score in finals, and I seem to have a knack for doing that," he said. "It's big, it's important for the club, it's important for the fans. Like I said, we were down to 10 men, I guess not really looking like we were going to get anything out of the game.

"Credit to everybody to keep pushing and keep fighting. It was nice to get the goal and to help the team. And where it ranks, I'm not too sure but it's a great feeling."

Cherundolo added that he was not sure of the extent of Canada international Crepeau's leg injury, but was full of praise for substitute McCarthy who saved two spot-kicks to decide the shoot-out and earn the MVP award.

"Couldn't happen to a better guy," the LAFC boss said. "John is one of the heartbeats of this team emotionally.

"We know what he can do in penalties. We've seen it. We've trained for these moments, and John came up big. Like I said, couldn't happen to a better guy, and extremely happy for him and everybody at LAFC."

A fantastic season for Jamaica Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake ended in disappointment following a penalty shootout loss to Los Angeles FC, in a thrilling final highlighted by a stoppage time header from former Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale.

In the wild ride of an MLS Cup final substitute goalkeeper John McCarthy emerged as the ultimate hero, saving two penalties in the shoot-out after an astonishing 3-3 draw.

In front of their own fans on Saturday, LAFC took the lead through Kellyn Acosta's deflected free-kick but were pegged back just before the hour when Daniel Gazdag scored his 24th goal of the season.

Jesus David Murillo headed LAFC back into the lead in the 83rd minute, but Jack Elliott stung the hosts with another leveller two minutes later.

English centre-back Elliott looked to have won it when he put Philadelphia back in front deep into extra time, after LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was sent off, but substitute Gareth Bale headed the hosts level in the eighth minute of stoppage time, with a powerful header that Blake had no chance of getting to.

Then the drama really went up a notch, with McCarthy, a Philadelphia-born former Union goalkeeper, pulling off saves from Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner, after Gazdag also haplessly missed from the spot.

Ilie Sanchez tucked away the clinching penalty in a 3-0 shoot-out triumph, sparking wild celebrations of the team's first MLS Cup triumph, with McCarthy named MVP.

The opening goal in the 28th minute owed plenty to fortune, with Acosta's 22-yard strike flicking off the head of 19-year-old Union midfielder Jack McGlynn and finding the bottom-left corner.

This was the first time since 2003 an MLS Cup has featured the teams that came top in the West and the East. They each finished the regular season with 67 points, but LAFC took the Supporters' Shield due to having more wins than Philadelphia, and that earned them home advantage.

The game's first equaliser arrived in the 59th minute when what looked like a wildly ambitious 30-yard shot from Jose Martinez inadvertently turned into a throughball for Gazdag, who controlled the fizzing low ball well before firing past Crepeau.

Murillo looked to have headed a winner for Los Angeles with seven minutes remaining as he powered home Carlos Vela's inswinging corner from the right. However, a terrific equaliser from Elliott, a fierce header after a free-kick from Kai Wagner on the left, brought Philadelphia level in the 85th minute.

Bale entered the fray in the seventh minute of extra time, replacing Vela.

Philadelphia then looked to have been dealt an outrageous injustice when Cory Burke raced through on goal and was scythed down by Crepeau, who was initially only yellow-carded for a clear professional foul, but it was soon upgraded to red. Crepeau looked to be seriously injured and had to be carried off, and on came McCarthy, the unlikeliest of heroes.

 

Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake finished third in Major League Soccer’s MVP voting as the player continues to be recognised among the best after an outstanding season to date.

The Jamaica was hoping to be the first goalkeeper to claim the award since legendary USA goalkeeper Tony Meola who won in 2000.  Blake, however, finished behind behind Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar and Austin FC's Sebastián Driussi for the for the 2022 Landon Donovan MVP Award.

The 31-year-old has already claimed fair share of silverware.  Blake became the first player in history to win the Goalkeeper of the Year award on three occasions when he claimed the nomination last week and was also received the Wanamaker Athletic Award.  The Philadelphia Union has turned in a career-high in single-season shutouts this year.

On the back of an excellent season, Blake will also have the opportunity to lift the MLS Cup on Sunday, after leading the team to a 3-1 win over New York City FC 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Championship last week.  Philadephia will face Western Conference champions and 2022 Supporters Shield winners Los Angeles Football Club in Saturday’s final.

Lionel Messi is "missed by football" because at Paris Saint-Germain he does not have the same audience as at Barcelona, according to LaLiga president Javier Tebas.

Messi left Barca in 2020 after the club's financial issues led to a significantly reduced salary limit in LaLiga, thus preventing them re-signing him after his contract expired.

He moved to PSG and, after a somewhat underwhelming first season on an individual level, Messi is thriving again this season.

But Tebas' perception is Messi is wasted in Ligue 1 because it does not have the same global audience as LaLiga and Barcelona.

Speaking at the Sports Summits organised by Argentinian newspaper Ole, Tebas said: "I think Messi is not only missed in LaLiga, he is missed by football because the French league is what it is, right?

"I think that no matter how many [superstars] are at PSG, Messi is followed much less than when he was at Barcelona. Let's hope he has a great World Cup, because there we will all be able to see him again.

"I don't see all the fans watching PSG against Nantes, I don't see it. With Barca it's the opposite."

Messi's future has become a hot topic again in recent weeks, with speculation beginning to swirl regarding his next destination.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move to MLS side Inter Miami, PSG want to renew his contract, and Barcelona are reportedly aiming to bring him back to Camp Nou.

 

Tebas could not offer any insight, but he was unequivocal in what he thinks Messi should do.

"I don't know if Messi will have one last show at Barca, that will depend on him," he continued.

"Hopefully he will come back. Above all it would also be good for him to return to Spanish football, especially to the team that has always been the team that birthed him.

"I think [leaving] was a mistake even for him, in my opinion, breaking up a marriage that was a very beneficial long-term alliance for Messi and for Barca itself."

Tebas' critical Ligue 1 comments come at a time when LaLiga's own reputation is hardly sky-high.

For the first time this century, Spain will have only one representative in the knockout stages of the Champions League after Atletico Madrid, Barca and Sevilla were all eliminated in the groups.

LaLiga was once considered the Premier League's biggest rival, but the English top flight has since moved to a level of its own in economic terms.

However, Tebas feels LaLiga still holds its own compared to the Premier League in a sporting sense.

"It is difficult for us to reach the Premier League economically, due to a population issue, but at a technological and sporting level, we are competing," he said.

"It is not necessary to see what happened last season or what may happen in this one, you have to see the last 10 seasons or more.

"Since the beginning of the century, LaLiga has won 35 European titles between the Champions League and Europa League [and Super Cup], and the Premier has won 13.

"And in the last 10 seasons LaLiga has won 60 per cent of the titles. I think we are not bad and we can withstand the pull of the Premier League, despite the fact that economically they may be stronger.

"We must remember this and not only look at how the Champions League group stage has finished this season."

Lionel Messi's potential move to Inter Miami in MLS would be even more significant for US soccer than Pele playing for the New York Cosmos, former United States international Brad Friedel told Stats Perform.

MLS has long been considered a likely end-of-career destination for Messi, but the intensity of such links has ramped up considerably in recent days, with media reports suggesting David Beckham-backed Inter are increasingly confident of luring the Paris Saint-Germain forward to MLS as early as next year.

Beckham was of course seen as something of a pioneer when he made the switch to LA Galaxy in 2007, and stars such as Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba all followed over the next decade.

But before MLS, the North American Soccer League (NASL) had served a similar purpose for ageing superstars in the 1970s and 80s, with Brazil legend Pele proving the trendsetter back then when he joined the Cosmos – Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Gerd Muller, Eusebio, Bobby Moore and George Best all went on to feature in the NASL before it collapsed after the 1984 season.

For all the history US soccer has with the biggest names in the sport, Friedel thinks nothing that has gone before could compare with the impact Messi's arrival would have.

"So, we had David Beckham over here, which was one of the best signings that MLS ever made for notoriety around the world," he told Stats Perform.

"And in today's day and age with social media, everyone's sort of a journalist with their phones these days, and how quickly media gets around the world.

"[Messi to MLS] would be unlike anything anyone's ever seen in this country, including when Pele was over here, just because of the way the media is.

"It would be incredible if Lionel Messi was playing in this league. The fans that he attracts, the global respect, how good he has been.

"If they can pull that off… I'm not generally [in favour of] the older player coming in [to MLS], but like [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Gareth] Bale were [signed] for a reason and [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic was for a reason, then work out that if you can get Messi, get him over here."

Although Messi's PSG contract expires next year, Inter should not expect a free run at the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

PSG are still reportedly confident of securing a contract extension, while officials from Messi's former club Barcelona have spoken openly about their desire to bring him back to Camp Nou.

The best in the East and the West will face off in the MLS Cup after Philadelphia Union launched a stunning 11-minute second-half rally to defeat reigning champions New York City 3-1 on Sunday.

Union will take on Supporters' Shield winners LAFC in the season decider on November 5 at Bank of California Stadium, with Steve Cherundolo's side easily accounting for Austin 3-0 earlier on Sunday.

Philadelphia had lost to NYC in last year's Conference Finals but a burst of goals from Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag and substitute Cory Burke sent them into their first-ever MLS Cup.

NYC had silenced the Subaru Park crowd when they went ahead in the 57th minute from Maxi Moralez's low strike after a cushioned pass from Santiago Rodriguez.

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake prevented a second NYC goal when he made a one-handed save to deny Alexander Callens' header.

Union capitalized on Blake's brilliance almost immediately, with Carranza slotting in a 65th-minute equalizer from Jakob Glesnes' quickly-taken free-kick.

Two minutes later Jack McGlynn's brilliant cross-field ball was headed down expertly by Carranza, splitting two defenders and setting up Gazdag to fire home for 2-1.

Burke, who had been brought on in the 62nd minute, burst forward with speed and strength to lash in a left-foot strike for 3-1 in the 76th minute.

LAFC's win over Austin was less complicated, with Cristian Arango nodding them ahead in the 29th minute, before a second-half Maximiliano Urruti own goal and Kwadwo Opoku strike settled their Conference Final.

Philadelphia and LAFC had both been top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences respectively, having finished the regular season equal on points.

LAFC won the Supporters' Shield due to recording more wins across the regular season. Both clubs will be aiming for their first-ever MLS Cup titles.

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