If one of the purposes of bringing Lionel Messi to Inter Miami is to bring interest to the league and get more viewers to MLS Season Pass, then there is no doubt it’s been a success. Not only in the United States but throughout the world, Messi’s arrival has brought attention. Articles, YouTube highlight videos and talk shows are all about Messi, Messi, Inter Miami and more Messi.

The inaugural Leagues Cup is entering its knockout phase with 32 teams currently vying to lift the first-ever Leagues Cup trophy. So we potentially have five more Messi appearances with Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup alone followed by 12 MLS games and a U.S. Open Cup semifinal (with, obviously, a possible Final to follow).

But, while Messi and Inter Miami will undoubtedly draw in fans, who on the other side of the pitch is worth looking at on the opposing teams? There is plenty of talent that may pique your interest.

Orlando City SC

Inter Miami’s opponent in the Round of 32 of the Leagues Cup is Florida rivals Orlando City SC. The squad boasts 10 wins, seven draws and six losses in a total of 23 MLS games, good enough for seventh in the Supporters’ Shield.

There’s certainly no lack of talent on the squad starting with a young rookie straight out of college in Duncan McGuire. The young American leads Orlando City in the goal-scoring department this season with eight goals in 19 appearances.

Another player to keep an eye on is Uruguayan Facundo Torres. Another young talent (23) who was on the roster squad for Uruguay’s 2022 World Cup team. He wasn’t used during the World Cup but will feature soon for the national team. Almadad has performed well for Uruguay in their U15, U17 & U20 squads.

Charlotte FC

While we don’t know Inter Miami’s future opponents in the Leagues Cup should they advance, the regular MLS season returns later in August and Inter Miami’s first opponent will be Charlotte FC.

The team has three players worth keeping an eye on, starting with Polish international Karol Swiderski.

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Swiderski has already faced Leo Messi in a match as Poland met Argentina in the 2022 World Cup. The 25-year-old has 10 goals and six assists in 25 Charlotte FC appearances this season.

The second player worth a look at on this Charlotte FC side is Enzo Copetti. The 27-year-old will certainly relish the opportunity to play against fellow Argentinian Messi and Inter Miami. Copetti, signed from Racing Club in January this year, has immediately made his mark on the team with countless great performances.

The third player to watch is young American Ben Bender who is in his second season of what is a very promising professional career. Bender was named in the ‘Top 22 under 22’ list last season. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft has arguably been Charlotte’s best player this season.

Cincinnati FC

Three days after what should be Lionel Messi’s MLS debut, Inter Miami will face Cincinnati FC in the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup. Cincinnati is led by yet another Argentinian Luciano Acosta.

The 29-year-old joined MLS back in 2016 with DC United and joined Cincinnati in 2021 after a short stint in Liga MX with Atlas F.C. While small in stature (he’s only 5’3”), Acosta has proven to be a very productive forward with 12 goals this season in 22 appearances for Cincinnati.

New York City FC

On the 27th of August, Inter Miami travel to New York City FC who have two very exciting young South Americans on the pitch: Uruguayan Santiago Rodriguez (23) and Brazilian Gabriel Pereira (22). Rodriguez has featured in all of Uruguay’s young squads from U15 to U20. Gabriel Pereira was brought up through the Corinthians youth system and made his first appearance for the club at 18.

Messi and Inter Miami changing MLS and MLS Season Pass numbers

After August, Inter Miami has nine more MLS regular season matches on tap. Messi’s stay in MLS will only be two-and-a-half years at most. It’s imperative that he leaves a mark on American soccer that many failed to do in the past.

For it to be more than a short-term infatuation, fans must look beyond his incredible talents and find that he will leave behind one or two big stars as the torchbearers for the league.

So take the opportunity, while watching this incredible talent, to cast an eye on others.

Messi is the now. But it’s those who he plays with and against that will determine the long-term success of MLS and soccer as a whole in North America.


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