Messi arrival puts MLS on 'rocket ship' to new heights
Commissioner Don Garber says Major League Soccer is on a “rocket ship” and believes Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami will take the competition to new heights.
After Pele’s move to New York Cosmos in 1975, MLS kicking off in 1996 and David Beckham’s 2007 switch to the LA Galaxy, this summer saw another seismic moment in North American football.
Global star Messi’s move to Miami just seven months after lifting the World Cup with Argentina in Qatar sent ripples across the footballing world.
The 36-year-old’s last-gasp free-kick winner on his debut against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup on Friday only increased attention on a move that Garber is thrilled about.
“MLS has been on this sort of rocket ship for a while,” said the league’s commissioner since 1999.
“Every day that you think they don’t maybe there’s a quiet period and you can settle in, something else happens that gives you even more momentum, more energy and more sort of optimism about where things are going.
“I think the time is going to come where these great things become expected, special moments are going to be expected and it’s not going to be ‘boy, is this the most special time in the history of the league?’”
Garber takes great pride in the fact “the best player in the history of the game made MLS his league of choice” when he could have gone anywhere.
The commissioner says the Argentinian’s arrival underlines the league’s “unending ambition”, perhaps meaning that one day the best players on the planet will move to North America at 26 rather than 36.
“I think you need to start with getting the best of all time choose us now,” Garber said when that potential change was put to him.
“What will that look like in the years to come and perhaps it will because I think the perception of Major League Soccer is going to change dramatically over the next number of years.
“I think our own ambition is going to change as we all see how all of this plays out.
“But I think because there are a handful of really big names who come at the end of their career, everyone has this label that they put on.
“I mean, David Beckham was 31. He went to Milan and PSG after.
“Yet nobody was saying to Zlatan when he left LA and then he played for Milan for two years and was leading scorer for a while that AC Milan is a retirement club.
“So, I think that’s what all you international pundits like to say but we actually feel really good about the dynamic of our player rosters.
“This concept of a designated player – someone who is outside the (wage) cap who is internationally renowned – that you do need someone who has a legacy of popularity.”
The designated player rule was brought in when Beckham arrived in MLS, with his unique deal allowing him the option to purchase an expansion club at a discounted price.
That team was Miami and the England great looked emotional when Messi made his debut 16 years to the day after he stepped out for his Galaxy bow.
“It fulfilled a dream that he had to really make an impact and follow up on his commitment from the earliest press conference in 2014,” Garber said of the Inter co-owner.
“David stood up there and said ‘I’m going to bring the best players in the world here to Miami – this is a city I love, it’s a team that I’m going to build, I’m going to make it great and I love the league’.
“It’s just not often that things align, and you sort of deliver on the things you say you’re going to deliver. I think that’s cool.
“David is a special guy. People don’t understand how smart David Beckham is, how thoughtful he is and how hard working he is.
“Obviously, you know that he’s very accessible and he’s very humble, but he had a laser focus from the very beginning when he walked off the field: ‘this is what I want to do and this is what it’s going to look like’.
“And it isn’t often where it all aligns and I was emotional with him when I saw him on Sunday night (at Messi’s unveiling).
“Very happy for him and really proud of him. It’s cool.”