untitled-design-2023-07-22t000914-595.png
Getty Images

When Lionel Messi got the ball with the clock ticking down, there was only one thing that was happening. Miami needed a goal to win the match and their brand new Argentine superstar nailed his free kick to secure all three points in Leagues Cup. It's a debut that shows what Messi can do, how far Miami has to go, and that Messi is already understanding his role within the team and league.

The Herons went ahead before the half, but with Cruz Azul pushing opted to bring Messi and Sergio Busquets on earlier than anticipated in the 54th minute but almost immediately the impact was felt. The interchanges were quicker, the movement was crisp and only the offside flag stopped Cruz Azul from conceding more goals. Miami players who are used to carrying the load on their own will now need to get used to looking for Messi, but for Busquets, reunited with his friend and teammate, that knowledge is second-nature, he knew where Messi would be at all times.

Another player who will benefit from Messi's impact on the attack is Josef Martinez, who was the player most frequently stopped by the offside flag from scoring a goal or more. His chemistry with Messi was evident early, but the attackers can't do it all alone, especially with Miami suffering yet another defensive injury when Ian Fray went down. After the match, Messi spoke about Fray dedicating the match to him.

"Let me dedicate this victory to Ian Fray who was suffering in the locker room from the injury he sustained," Messi said. "He comes from two serious injuries and today he has the bad luck to go through an injury again."

For someone who just joined the team and who scored the winning goal in the match to take time to recognize a young homegrown player who is suffering from an injury shows that there's more to Messi than the goals. Whether he truly embraces this team and the city of Miami more broadly, will be the biggest thing to determine if this is a successful transfer. These are the comments which show that it's happening. Fray has already torn his ACL twice and this is an injury that could be devastating so, hearing that Messi dedicated the match to him can offer a bit of comfort and is a positive early sign of how Messi sees himself in relation to this project.

Defensive improvement will still be needed for Miami as Drake Callender can't make seven saves every match, but when Jordi Alba is also coming, there's reason to believe the team will improve in the coming weeks. For step one of the Messi experience, Tata Martino couldn't have asked for a much better start and it may already be time to adjust expectations for what Messi can do on the pitch. 

Messi put two of his three shots on target and created a chance coming off the bench. With more training under his belt and gaining fitness, these numbers will go up to a point where he's averaging a goal involvement or more per match seems like an increasingly reasonable expectation. As long as the team can stay close to healthy, there is certainly time to rise form the bottom or the Eastern Conference, where they currently reside, 12 points out of the postseason placecs, to become a playoff team.