Inter Miami CF are set to close the book on their historic 2023 MLS season, but not without properly honoring the man who made it possible.
Lionel Messi, the blockbuster summer signing whose arrival transformed both the club and the North American soccer landscape, is the inspiration behind “Noche d’Or” – a first-of-its-kind event that will celebrate the legendary No. 10’s record eighth Ballon d’Or win.
The festivities will take place Friday night at DRV PNK Stadium, where Messi’s historic trophy will be presented to fans before the Herons take on New York City FC in a club friendly (8 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). There will also be speeches from Messi himself, as well as Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
For head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino, the occasion is a fitting tribute to a global sporting icon whose remarkable first half-season in Miami included a memorable Leagues Cup 2023 title, a run to the US Open Cup Final and countless must-see moments that only the GOAT could provide.
“We have enjoyed these five months. It’s been like a roller coaster, between so many games and tournaments. We were able to enjoy a championship,” Tata told reporters on Wednesday. “For me, it’s always a pleasure to coach him.”
Martino also confirmed Messi will see significant minutes on Friday night – a refreshing change of pace for the 2022 World Cup champion, whose injury problems and national team commitments affected his playing time over the final stretch of the season as Miami ultimately missed out on the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“We want to join him in celebrating his eighth Ballon d’Or, but it’s also an opportunity to compete again, even if it’s a friendly, so that people can see Leo and his teammates on the field,” Tata added.
Homegrown midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi doubled down on the significance of Messi’s latest milestone.
“It’s common for him to get the Ballon d’Or, but this one is different because he’s a teammate,” the 18-year-old US-Argentina dual national said. “It’s crazy having him here and having him win another one."
More in store for 2024
Winning is starting to become the norm for Miami, thanks to Messi ushering in a new, competitive era at the club with help from fellow FC Barcelona legends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, among other key signings.
And with more high-profile arrivals expected this offseason, the Herons could very well become an even bigger force to be reckoned with in 2024.
“We know we’ll be stronger than we were this year,” Cremaschi said. “… With all the games coming next year and a preseason, we’ll be ready and well-prepared to move ahead and win everything.”
Sure enough, Martino expects Messi to be in the thick of it all, hungry for more titles. What makes him so sure of this?
“Because he loves to compete," Tata answered, referencing the No. 10's trademark intensity during recent closed-door training sessions.
"... If you could see that [training], I wouldn't be answering this question."