Major League Soccer

Lionel Messi set for richest deal in MLS history, summer move to Beckham’s Miami

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Lionel Messi is close to moving to Inter Miami next summer, where he’ll become the richest player in Major League Soccer history according to a sensational report in The Sunday Times.

Considered by many to be the greatest player of his generation, the 35-year-old Messi is still playing at an elite level with Paris Saint-Germain — and Argentina — and was expected to consider a return to Barcelona among several possible stops after his PSG contract expires this summer.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

A report in May said Messi would join Inter Miami and acquire 35% of the David Beckham’s club, as the Argentine already has a home in Miami as does close friend Luis Suarez. Speculation has linked Suarez and Cesc Fabregas to Inter Miami in moves that would be stratospheric for a league that has grown younger but also shown that world-class veterans can star late in their careers.

Messi to Miami: What it means for club, player, MLS

This is the rare deal that will make everyone with an MLS opinion nod at each other, whether defiant of the outdated “retirement league” criticism or those who think the league still needs big names to be relevant.

Messi is closing in on his 700th goal between Barca and PSG and has added 93 more for Argentina, with nearly 400 combined assists through club and country. He’s won seven Ballons d’Or and, according to FBRef.com, still ranks in the 99th percentile in net expected goals and assists, shot-creating actions, passes attempted, and progressive passes. He’d get some criticism from the diehard Cristiano Ronaldo and/or Real Madrid crowd and perhaps from those hoping he’d one day go home to Newell’s Old Boys, but Messi will be closer to Argentina and a closer event for South American and North American fans.

Inter Miami made its first playoff appearance in 2022, its third season in MLS. The club is coached by Phil Neville and boasted Messi pal Gonzalo Higuain until the player retired this summer. Alejandro Pozuelo is also out of contract and star Leonardo Campana was on loan from Wolves this season. Still on the roster are USMNT back DeAndre Yedlin, former Arsenal back Kieran Gibbs. Suffice it to say that if Pozuelo and Carlos Vela can affect a club the way they have in their 30s, Messi’s going to contend for every league honor a la Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Every single MLS club would sell out their dates against Inter Miami well in advance of the game. If you thought David Beckham was a box-office smash, get ready for something even bigger… if in fact this happens.

LAFC vs Philadelphia Union: How to watch MLS Cup Final, stream link

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It doesn’t happen often, but the two best teams in Major League Soccer will meet in the MLS Cup Final when Philadelphia Union visits LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday.

Eastern Conference Final hosts Philadelphia came from behind to beat reigning MLS Cup champs NYCFC 3-1 on Sunday after LAFC blanked Austin FC 3-0 to set up the final.

Both Philadelphia and LAFC finished the regular season with 67 points, but LAFC won two more matches than the Union to claim its second Supporters Shield in four years.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]  

Either LAFC or Philadelphia have won the Supporters Shield in three of the past four MLS regular seasons, and shield winners have not even made the MLS Cup Final during those campaigns.

Christian Arango and Kwadwo Opoku scored to join an Austin own goal in LAFC’s win over Austin, while Philly had more work to do after Maxi Moralez put NYCFC ahead after halftime.

The home crowd then got fireworks as Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag, and Cory Burke scored thrice in just over 10 minutes to seal a spot in the final.


How to watch MLS Cup Final: LAFC vs Philadelphia Union

Kickoff: 4pm ET Saturday, Nov. 5
TV Channel: FOX, UniMas
Stream: FoxSports.com

Austin FC readies for first playoff game with palpable home advantage

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Austin FC’s first-ever MLS Cup Playoff game sold out in five minutes, and Sunday’s game will be chock full of verde atmosphere.

None of that is a surprise for a club that’s sold out 34-straight contests and at times has boasted an away crew that threatens to outclass the home crowd.

“When we went on the road the first game to Colorado and you’ve got 500 fans, it’s just different,” said Austin head coach Josh Wolff, the MLS and USMNT veteran. “Was it going to be sustained? You go to 2022 and we have the same type of fan base. We’re in Colorado, LAFC, Houston, DC, and we’re winning games.

“We’re coming from behind to win games. We’re running away with games, winning games in all different ways. That’s the momentum where you have an on-field product married with an off-field surge of energy, momentum, and connection to the players. I think of the vacuum that Atlanta created and that’s how I’ve seen this take place. There’s still a big synergy and when you bring them to Q2, you actually feel it on TV.”

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Wolff speaks at a sort of “dare you to transcribe this” pace, his voice chock full of excitement but carrying the tone of a man who knew success was coming to his second-year Texas club. He says the club built its relationship with supporters by telling them what to look for in their performances so they witness progress, win or lose.

The manager saw Austin putting in good performances last season and knew the fans saw it, too. But he’s learned you can’t substitute the good vibes that come from scoring and winning, as AFC has boosted its goals from 35 to 65 and its points from 31 to 56.

“What I’ve learned as a coach is I liked a lot of our performances (in 2021) but unfortunately we didn’t win games and score enough goals,” Wolff said. “That’s the validation that players truly need. They need to see the goals and the wins to validate the work. Players and fans.”

SOCCER: AUG 26 MLS - LAFC at Austin FC
AUSTIN, TX – AUGUST 26: (Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And going 8-7-2 away from home in a league that has a widespread home-field advantage as big as any in the world? Wolff says to watch the highlights from April’s 3-2 comeback win over 10-man DC United. The hosts led 2-0 at the break but Austin struck thrice in the final 10 minutes to deliver a win, heading over to the traveling supporters to get a little wild.

“The reaction you get from us in DC, down 2-0 and up a guy… it’s immediately over to our fans,” Wolff said. “That’s because we know they’re there and we hear them.”

Austin’s been led by a mix of foreign stars and MLS vets this season. While Sebastian Driussi has rightly received a lot of love for his 22-goal season, the club’s watched Diego Fagundez (15 assists), Alex Ring (2788 minutes), and Nick Lima (four assists) help pace the growth.

And then there’s 17-year-old Owen Wolff, Josh’s son and the first of what Josh Wolff expects to be several teens to break into the team. Josh Wolff says U.S. U-17 international Micah Burton will be a first-team player next year, and the coach is monitoring several others in the academy.

“We’re about 2-3 years into our process and it’s going to be a big part of how you have success in this league,” Wolff Said. “For all of MLS, we’re starting to see such a surge of young talent. … You’ve heard the cliche: If they’re good enough, they’re old enough. Physically, tactically, technically they can deal with it. Part of it is getting enough games and hours in professional soccer. Ideally you bring them into the first team. You can keep them for 10-15 years or sell them. Dallas, NYC, Philadelphia. We expect to be in that space, too.”

You can’t let Wolff leave an interview without asking him about next month’s World Cup.

After all, Wolff assisted Gregg Berhalter in Columbus and followed him into the USMNT en route to the Austin FC job. And he was a part of perhaps the most memorable USMNT World Cup team, the 2002 edition.

So here’s a man who is very emotionally invested in the team.

Wolff believes this group of USMNT players need to get more experience but have shown in CONCACAF Nations League and the Gold Cup that they can rise to the occasion.

He expects them to get out of their gorup.

“It’s a process, a culmination of four years of work,” Wolff said. “There are delicate discussions out there, the anger of not qualifying. There was a lot of anxiety in and stress put on qualifying. The good news is the goal is to qualify and we qualified. The team has shown a great deal of growth. Is there more to be had? Absolutely. But it’s an extremely young group, a much more talented team than what we had in 2002.

“When this team has been in competition, they’ve won and that’s validating. I expect them to get out of the group and like anything, when you get out of the group… no one expected us to get to the World Cup Final but we were pretty damn close had we just been given a penalty and a red card against Germany. You need a little bit of fortune but you need the quality and there’s much more of that in this group. When they’re in competitions, they’ve performed quite well. The World Cup is a whole other animal. It’s a beautiful experience. The good news is there’s a dozen-plus who will be in the next cycle.

“We also have a lot more guys that are playing Champions League, high-level soccer. MLS is a high level but playing in Europe and Champions League and Europa, is the highest of the high and if you historically look back at the World Cup, the best ones in the latter rounds are Champions League players so that lends to our ability to go to this event and do well. Doesn’t mean we will, but it gives us the potential to.”

Cheers to that.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.

USMNT’s Gabriel Slonina unveiled by Chelsea, loaned back to Chicago

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Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina is officially a member of Chelsea, though the USMNT teenager will head back to Chicago Fire on loan for the rest of the 2023 MLS season.

Slonina, 18, makes it three American goalkeepers on “Big Six” Premier League sides after Man City’s Zack Steffen, currently on loan to Middlesbrough, and new Arsenal signing Matt Turner (New England Revolution).

The transfer is a club record for Chicago and sees the U.S. youth international signing a six-year deal with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Premier League season preview – The Big Six ]

Slonina is eligible to represent Poland and the USMNT but has so far rebuffed the former’s advances in the hopes of representing his home country.

Chicago is two points back of Major League Soccer’s final Eastern Conference playoff spot, currently held by Cincinnati. A playoff berth would be its first since 2017 and just its third since 2009.

“I want to thank you all for supporting a local boy from Addison. You have inspired me to work my hardest day in and day out. I promise that I will continue to give everything in these final 11 games to help get us back into the playoffs and compete for a championship.”