Messi to MLS: Will Ronaldo rejection send U.S. push for PSG superstar into overdrive?

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American soccer missed out on the Portuguese icon, making the pursuit of the Argentinian World Cup winner all the more interesting

The world's most famous athlete came oh so close to taking his talents to MLS. Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the biggest global star in the history of sports, almost decided to take his career stateside, and to Sporting KC no less!

The club was told that it really was in the hunt, having made numerous attempts through numerous meetings to sell itself to Ronaldo's representatives. Those representatives reportedly took it all to heart, saying that if Ronaldo's move was to MLS, it would have been Kansas City.

It was a deal that always seemed almost impossible but, in the end, it somehow nearly got over the line.

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As we all know, though, nearly doesn't count for much. Ronaldo ultimately opted for his mega-money move to Al Nassr and, in the process, lifted Saudi Arabian soccer, not MLS, right onto his shoulders.

So there goes that. The pursuit of one of soccer's titans fell just short. Onto the next one?

The American soccer public, and Inter Miami in particular, will now turn their focus toward Lionel Messi, a player that further solidified his status as an icon this winter in Qatar. Fresh off a World Cup win, Messi continues to be linked with a move to Miami, if not soon than at some point down the line.

But, at this point, does MLS need Messi, or does the fact that the league missed out on Ronaldo make a pursuit of the Argentinian icon now even more vital?

There are plenty of reasons MLS would benefit from the arrival of Messi, especially given what we know is on the horizon.

The league just signed a massive partnership with Apple for broadcast rights that will see MLS games shown in countries all over the world. The presence of Messi would make that deal significantly more lucrative for all involved and bring an insane amount of eyeballs to a league still defining its place internationally.

One only has to look at Al Nassr's rise on social media after signing Ronaldo to get an idea of what a move like this means when it comes to securing interest from all over the world. Bringing Messi to Miami, in particular, would instantly vault that club into a group that includes the most watched in the world.

The combination of Messi's stardom, David Beckham's ownership and Miami's culture would make the city a destination for fans and players alike.

But it's not just MLS that would benefit from a potential Messi arrival, but the sport as a whole. There's a World Cup coming, after all, and it will be here before you know it.

The 2022 World Cup showed just how far the U.S. has come on the field and, in some ways, off of it. Viewership reached record numbers throughout the tournament in Qatar, and couple that with rising TV numbers for the Premier League, Liga MX and Champions League and you see a rising tide for soccer in the United States.

However, the domestic game is still lagging far behind international leagues when it comes to interest. Many believe the 2026 World Cup will help close the gap as fans all over the country fall in love with the sport before falling in love with their local teams.

But bringing in Messi would kickstart that process sooner, giving American soccer a runway right up until the 2026 tournament, which may or may not be Messi's swansong on the world stage depending on who you ask.

Does MLS, and American soccer, need Messi to build that runway? Is the presence of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner necessary for the sport to reach its goals in this country? Probably not, but it sure as hell would help.

As for Messi, it's a move that still makes some measure of sense, if not now then down the line, even after his World Cup win. It's understood that he's set to extend his stay at PSG by at least one more year, with his performances in Qatar proving that he has at least a bit more time of playing at the elite level. But that may only delay a stateside move, not shut the door completely.

For Messi, a move to Miami, in particular, would move him closer to home in Argentina. It would make international duty significantly less strenuous if he were to decide to help defend his World Cup crown. Flights from Miami to South America aren't so bad, which would make trips back home for qualifiers a bit more manageable.

Off the field, he'd benefit greatly. He'd certainly get a boatload of money, if not an ownership stake. He'd become a cultural icon in the U.S., much like Pele, whose recent passing only further illustrated his importance to American soccer. And, in some ways, he'd step out of the limelight in a country that tends to treat its athletic stars with a little more nuance and respect than elsewhere.

In Miami, he'd find a familiar culture, with Messi already owning a vacation home in the area. Reports say he already loves the area and would relish the opportunity to live in a city that is known for blending Caribbean, North and South American cultures.

At the end of the day, though, neither side needs this move. If Messi doesn't come to MLS, the league will keep plugging along. Teams will sign more players like fellow Argentinian World Cup winner Thiago Almada, perhaps the next youngster to be sold for millions by an MLS team.

And Messi? He'll be fine no matter what he does. Whether he continues on with PSG, goes home to either Argentina or Barcelona, or finds a new adventure in the Middle East like Ronaldo, his legacy is certainly secure. If it wasn't before, his heroics in Qatar certainly solidified his place in history.

This link, though, won't go anywhere. MLS' pursuit of Ronaldo failed, with the league unable to bring a titan of the game stateside. However, what we learned from that failure was that the dream of being able to sign a player of that caliber is very much alive. All the pieces are there, even if they didn't quite come together in a way to convince Ronaldo to give up the millions he'll earn in Saudi Arabia.

Now, the focus will turn to his great rival, a player that may end up doing what Ronaldo did not: becoming the man to lift American soccer into a new stratosphere.