Messi, Suárez, Busquets & Co.: Inter Miami need to find the right balance for success


Ahead of crucial Concacaf fixture 

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On Saturday, Lionel Messi returned from an injury that kept him out of the last four Major League Soccer games and the first leg Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal against Monterrey. And the impact has been instant with Messi scoring for Inter Miami in a 2-2 draw against Colorado Rapids. Ultimately, even with Messi back, Tata Martino’s side could not end a four-game winless streak across all competitions. 

Messi has been out for five games across all competitions. During that stretch, Inter Miami lost to Montréal (2-3), beat D.C. United (3-1), were crushed 4-0 by New York Red Bulls and then drew New York City FC (1-1). Without Messi, the Beckham-owned club also lost to Liga MX’s side Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions Cup (1-2). That final result against Monterrey might be the costliest of all the games Inter Miami have dropped during that stretch. 

With the United States hosting the first-ever iteration of the newly revamped FIFA Club World Cup in the summer of 2025, it is paramount for Major League Soccer to have Messi and Inter Miami at that tournament. But to get there, Miami must win the Champions Cup, a tournament that Liga MX’s teams have dominated. Indeed, the Seattle Sounders in 2022 have been the only MLS team to break through the Mexican dominance in Concacaf’s premier competition since it was massively overhauled ahead of the 2008/09 season. Monterrey, in contrast, have won it five times, making it a less-than-ideal opponent to overturn a 2-1 home deficit. 

MLS market values: The most valuable players after the March update

25. Julián Carranza | Philadelphia Union | Market value: €6m

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24. Jovan Mijatović | NYCFC | Market value: €6m

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Market value change: +€3m

23. Aaron Boupendza | Cincinnati | Market value: €6.5m

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22. Pedro de la Vega | Seattle Sounders | Market value: €6.5m

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21. Ryan Gauld | Vancouver Whitecaps | Market value: €7m

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20. Diego Rossi | Columbus Crew | Market value: €7m

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19. Liel Abada | Charlotte FC | Market value: €7m

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(Shown here in his old Celtic colours)

18. Alan Velasco | FC Dallas | Market value: €7m

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17. Luciano Acosta | FC Cincinnati | Market value: €8m

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16. Dániel Gazdag | Philadelphia Union | Market value: €8m

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15. Petar Musa | FC Dallas | Market value: €8m

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14. Evander | Portland Timbers | Market value: €8m

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13. Gabriel Pec | LA Galaxy | Market value: €8m

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Market value change: +€2m

12. Jesús Ferreira | FC Dallas | Market value: €9m

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11. Joseph Paintsil | LA Galaxy | Market value: €9.5m

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10. Sebastián Driussi | Austin FC | Market value: €10m

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Market value change: -€2m

9. Denis Bouanga | LAFC | Market value: €10m

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8. Talles Magno | NYCFC | Market value: €10m

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7. Hugo Cuypers | Chicago Fire | Market value: €11m

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6. Hany Mukhtar | Nashville SC | Market value: €12m

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5. Riqui Puig | LA Galaxy | Market value: €12m

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4. Cucho Hernández | Columbus Crew | Market value: €13m

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3. Facundo Torres | Orlando City | Market value: €14m

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2. Thiago Almada | Atlanta United | Market value: €27m

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1. Lionel Messi | Inter Miami CF | Market value: €30m

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Market value change: -€5m

Messi, Suárez, Busquets & Co.: Can Tata Martino find the right balance?

Monterrey also won the competition in 2021. They, together with the Sounders and last year’s winners Club León are already qualified for the Club World Cup. Should Monterrey win the competition again this season, the spot would be going to the highest-ranking non-Mexican team in the confederation’s 4-year ranking. That club is currently the Philadelphia Union. In other words, for Messi to be at the FIFA Club World Cup, Inter Miami will have to win the Champions Cup – a bubble that could burst as early as this week in the second leg between Monterrey and Inter Miami. The United States will also receive an extra spot as the host, but it is unclear how that spot will be allocated

Whether it is the Champions Cup, the Leagues Cup in the summer, or the regular MLS schedule. It becomes increasingly clear that this squad is difficult to balance for head coach Martino. Because Messi isn’t the only aging super star increasingly needing rest in what is one of the most challenging leagues to manage in terms of travel. Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba came off the bench on the weekend against Colorado as the strain of travel and a dense game schedule is clearly impacting the two Spaniards. 

Then there is Luis Suárez. Although arguably the best player in Brazil last season, the 37-year-old Uruguayan has been quite open about his knee problems. Those problems are at times visible to the naked eye with Suárez at times sporting a bit of limp. Despite the physical problems, the Uruguayan remains a goalscoring machine. This season Suárez has scored seven goals and five assists in ten games across all competitions.  In fact, only Lewis Morgan (RBNY) and Cristian Arango (RSL), with six goals each, have scored more often in MLS than Suárez (five goals). 

MLS top goalscorers after matchday 7

Inter Miami: Do we need to expect more from younger players?

From a pure production standpoint, it is, in fact, challenging to criticize Miami’s big stars. Suárez, after all, not only leads his club in scoring but is first in the league with 38 touches in the box, second in the league with 68.42% shots on target, and fourth in the league with 60% completed smart passes. Messi, in the meantime, is first in the league with 5.2 shots on goal per 90 minutes, fourth with 5.2 progressive runs per 90, and tenth in the league with 6.43 dribbles per 90 minutes. 

In other words, when fully fit, the two superstars at least lead the way for Miami. While those numbers are impressive, they also highlight Miami’s dependency on what is essentially an aging core of Messi, Suárez, Busquets, and Alba. Indeed, age has been one factor why Transfermarkt recently downgraded Messi from €35m to €30m. But even at 36, the Argentine remains the most valuable player in MLS ahead of his compatriot Thiago Almada. 

Major League Soccer: The most valuable U21 players

While Messi & Co. are in their mid to late 30s. Part of the story is that Inter Miami have the sixth youngest squad in MLS, with an average age of just 24.4 years. Indeed, Federico Redondo, Tomás Avilés, and Facundo Farías made the list of the ten most valuable U21 MLS players following the recent market value update. In Benja Cremaschi, Inter Miami also have one of the most exciting young Americans in the squad. Martino’s job is to integrate those players and have them shoulder some of the weight in a busy schedule from here to the end of the season. And there isn’t much time. From a marketing perspective, much could go wrong as early as this Wednesday when Inter Miami face Monterrey for the second leg in the Concacaf Champions Cup.  


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