Lionel Messi, Inter Miami to kick off 2024 MLS season against Real Salt Lake

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will open the 2024 MLS season on Feb. 21. (AP/Ryan Sun)

Lionel Messi is set to kick off the new Major League Soccer season.

MLS dropped its 2024 season schedule Wednesday, and it will kick off with Messi and Inter Miami hosting Real Salt Lake in South Florida in February. It’s the earliest start to a season in the league’s nearly three-decade history.

Of course, leading with Messi only makes sense for MLS. Messi has dominated the sport since he arrived at Inter Miami last summer. He scored 11 goals in 14 matches last season and led the club to a win over Nashville SC to claim the Leagues Cup — which marked Inter Miami’s first major trophy after it started the season as one of the worst clubs in the league. Messi was named Time Magazine’s Athlete of the Year after the 36-year-old moved to Inter Miami, too, and the club’s social media presence skyrocketed beyond that of any other major professional sports team in the United States.

Before Miami’s season begins with the match against Salt Lake on Feb. 21, the club will make a trip to Saudi Arabia to play Al-Hilal SFC and Al Nassr FC, where Cristiano Ronaldo now plays. Miami will also stop in El Salvador, Hong Kong and Japan on its preseason tour.

After the game against Real Salt Lake, Inter Miami then take on the LA Galaxy four days later in Southern California.

Other notable games across the league include a match between the Galaxy and LAFC at the Rose Bowl on July 4. That rivalry game drew a league-record crowd of more than 82,000 people last season.

LAFC will host Columbus Crew on July 13 in a rematch of this year’s MLS Cup, which Columbus won 2-1.

MLS and Liga MX will once again stop their regular seasons for the Leagues Cup in 2024. The tournament — which will feature 47 teams from the United States, Canada and Mexico — will kick off July 26, just 12 days after the Copa América final in Miami. The Leagues Cup final is set for Aug. 2.

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