The first thing Lionel Messi did after scoring was hug his kids. Never mind his adulate team-mates, the screaming fans or the celebrities that lined the field, filming every moment. Messi, having just curled in a majestic free-kick in stoppage-time to seal victory on his Inter Miami debut, was keen to share a moment with his family.
Everything felt pre-ordained last Friday at DRV PNK Stadium, which is, disappointingly, some 45 minutes from Miami. Messi entered the game against Cruz Azul in the second half, with the scores level but his new side being increasingly outplayed. Everything for the next 35 minutes went as smoothly as it possibly could've. Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender pulled off a string of diving stops, while fellow debutant Sergio Busquets got away with a few fouls.
Inevitably, in the 93rd minute, Messi was handed his moment. He was hacked down, just to the left of the goal, and about 25 yards out. The problem with fouling Messi in that spot is that he's scored this goal countless times before. He knows the exact curve, zip, and dip of the ball. This isn't calculation as much as muscle memory at this point.
Of course, the 36-year-old's left foot delivered, sending the stadium into raptures, and marking the Argentine's arrival into American soccer in perfect fashion. There aren't enough heart-warming moments in football, especially when big-money, big-brand players are involved. Everything feels too flashy, too curated. But that second, that free-kick, was absolutely perfect.
And so starts the Messi years in Miami. They may not be that successful on the pitch for the Argentine, despite his electric start. They may not even be particularly watchable all the time. But for those who tune in, as well as for the man himself, they will be immensely fun.
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