Lionel Messi’s first game in an Inter Miami uniform was everything MLS could have hoped for — and then some.
After over a month of fanfare since the Argentinian legend announced he was coming to the U.S. for the next chapter of his career, 21,000 fans squeezed into a sold-out DRV Pink Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Friday night for Messi’s debut in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul.
Anticipation built as the superstar sat out the first half before subbing into the game in its 54th minute. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner made fans wait until stoppage time to see his magic — netting a free kick before time expired to seal a 2-1 victory that set social media ablaze.
Among the stars catching Messi’s debut in person were Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, and Serena Williams.
Viewership numbers are not available for Messi’s debut on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV — specific figures have not been released all season. But Apple had been heavily promoting Messi’s presence in the days leading up to Friday’s match.
Inter Miami has its second Leagues Cup group stage match at Atlanta United on Tuesday, but it is unclear if Messi will suit up. The 36-year-old has traditionally not played on artificial turf — the playing surface at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Either way, Inter Miami is in good shape to make the knockout round that could see Messi make his second MLS appearance.
Before his debut, sports retailers had already been struggling to keep Inter Miami gear in stock. With Messi already bringing the heat, expect the mania to only continue.