Matty Longstaff is enjoying a fresh start with Toronto FC having gone from the highest of highs with boyhood club Newcastle to dealing with injuries, frustration and the business side of the beautiful game.

If you were writing a script for a young Geordie, then scoring the winner against Manchester United on your Premier League debut at a packed St James’ Park would be the dream.

Better still, teenager Longstaff did that playing alongside his older brother and appeared set to follow Sean in establishing himself as a Newcastle regular.

The midfielder made 15 appearances during the 2019-20 campaign and scored at Old Trafford, but things ultimately did not go to plan for a midfielder starting anew in Major League Soccer with Toronto.

“You probably don’t realise how special it is until down the line, you realise how difficult it was to actually go and do that,” Longstaff told the PA news agency.

“When I came through, I didn’t have any lows. Broke through, scored on my debut against Man United, played that season, felt like I’d done well, obviously scored at Old Trafford.

“Everything just kind of seemed to roll on. You don’t really think about anything – you just play, play, play.

“Then certain things come up and suddenly you’d start to stall. It gets a bit tougher and then you realise that it’s a business and it’s not what you think it is. As bad as it sounds, it’s a business at the end of the day.

“Obviously I was there and then you’re gone and you have to accept it because ultimately, players are going to come and go.

“When I’m 19 breaking through, you just think ‘I’ll play here and this will be me for my career’ but then in about six or seven months, you soon realise that it’s completely different and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Longstaff’s breakthrough attracted interest from Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, including a lucrative offer from Udinese, but he was always “praying” for a new deal where his “heart lay”.

The homegrown midfielder eventually signed a new contract with the Magpies but only made five more appearances for them, spending time on loan at Aberdeen, Mansfield and Colchester.

The latter spell was ended by an anterior cruciate ligament injury on Boxing Day 2022, leading to a gruelling rehabilitation programme and uncertainty after his Newcastle deal ended last summer.

“I did every bit of the rehab there,” said Longstaff, who is full of praise for his former club. “I was really lucky.

“When I ran out of contract, I got a phone call off (sporting director) Dan Ashworth in the off-season when I’d ran out.

“Let’s be honest, as a player you never know what can happen with clubs and stuff, but they were absolutely spot on with me.

“Dan just rang me and said ‘look, Matty, we’re going to keep you here for the full rehab process, it doesn’t matter how long it takes’.

“Dan and the gaffer (Eddie Howe) at Newcastle were unbelievable with us.”

Longstaff says it “makes such a big difference to you when you know people actually care”, with that help even extending to aiding his move to Canada.

 

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The 24-year-old met Ashworth and Toronto boss John Herdman – who hails from nearby Consett – at Newcastle’s training ground during rehab, leading to a trial and signing a two-year deal.

Longstaff so far loves life in Toronto – his brother Sean’s “favourite place” – and is full of praise for an “unbelievable” club, who he made his debut for off the bench against Charlotte a month ago.

“I hadn’t played a competitive game in 15 months, so you miss that feeling,” he said. “The way the fans went on, it was unbelievable.

“Something I’ll remember and hopefully the longer I’m here, I can give them a few more opportunities to cheer.”

Longstaff has since made four starts for TFC and is excited to be starting this new chapter at a time when MLS is beginning its own with the 2026 World Cup looming large.

“It’s showing what a good league it is now,” Longstaff said. “I’m looking forward to playing more.

“When you look at the players that are coming here and what’s happening round here, it was a bit of a no-brainer.”

Colorado Rapids twice came from behind to beat Los Angeles FC 3-2 in Saturday's thrilling MLS clash at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Djordje Mihailovic was the Rapids' hero, with two goals in the space of six minutes late in the first half.

Moise Bombito's first-half header had pulled Colorado level in the first half, cancelling out Eduard Atuesta's early strike.

David Martinez had put LAFC seemingly in control, yet the LAFC substitute turned from hero to zero when he was sent off in the 85th minute, paving the way for Mihailovic to follow up a stunning equaliser with a close-range winner.

The Black and Gold made a quick start as Denis Bouanga hit the bar with a wayward cross shortly before the opening goal.

Atuesta rifled his long-range shot into the bottom-right corner, netting his second goal in as many games for LAFC.

The momentum shifted in favour of the Rapids in the later stages of the first half, and they capitalised on it as Bombito rose highest on a corner to score his first MLS goal – a thumping header past Hugo Lloris into the near post.

Bouanag was denied by Zack Steffen, but the visitors got their goal when Martinez capped off a mazy run with a low finish beyond the Rapids goalkeeper.

Yet Martinez's day was soon to turn sour as, after Mihailovic's excellent free-kick had restored parity, he picked up a second yellow card in the space of seven minutes.

The Rapids made their numerical advantage count, with Mihailovic stretching out a leg to prod home in the 89th minute, sealing a memorable win that took Colorado into third place in the Western Conference.

Colorado find their shooting boots

It looked like Colorado's poor streak on home turf was going to be extended, but Mihailovic's double ensured they would pick up their first three points in Denver season.

A lack of a clinical edge seemed set to cost them again, with Colorado having managed just five goals from their five games before Saturday's encounter, but the floodgates opened this time around.

Coach Chris Armas has pointed to their finishing as a problem area, so he will undoubtedly be thrilled to see the work pay off, as the Rapids also made it five straight wins against LAFC at home.

LAFC's misery on the road continues

For the third time this season, the Black and Gold lost on the road, and Steve Cherundolo will be rueing their missed opportunities.

Despite making a bright start in both halves, they struggled to maintain their momentum, especially after Colorado's equalisers.

A win would have taken them top in the Western Conference, temporarily at least, but their dropped points mean they sit in eighth, with seven points from their six games so far.

Lewis Morgan became the top goalscorer in MLS this season after his hat-trick inspired New York Red Bulls to a 4-0 thrashing of Inter Miami.

With Lionel Messi out injured, Miami could do little to prevent their former player Morgan turning on the style at the Red Bull Arena.

Not only did Morgan help himself to three goals, but he also teed up another with a mazy run from the touchline before helping it back to Wikelman Carmona.

Saturday's heavy defeat saw Miami, temporarily at least, fall from top spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Red Bulls moved up to third with 10 points from their four games.

The Red Bulls enjoyed a sensational start, with Morgan firing them in front after just three minutes to bring up his third goal of the season. The Scottish striker latched on to a clever flick from Dante Vanzeir before dispatching into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

Sandro Schwarz's side could have doubled their lead in the 29th minute after Morgan returned the favour to Vanzeir with a superb throughball, but he dragged his effort wide.

Miami's best chance of the first half came through Jordi Alba, who found himself in space inside the penalty area after Lawson Sunderland poked the ball into his path, but his effort whistled over the bar.

The visitors' frustration was compounded just six minutes into the second half – Vanzeir and Morgan linking up once again as the latter got on the end of a defence-splitting pass before tucking home.

It was 3-0 in the 66th minute, Carmona firing in from close range after tireless work from Morgan.

The 27-year-old chased down a loose ball before taking on his marker and picking out Vanzeir, whose touch fell Carmona.

Morgan secured his hat-trick just four minutes later with the Red Bulls hitting Miami on the counter-attack, finishing coolly from yet another excellent Vanzeir pass.

Morgan haunts the Herons

With the home side unbeaten in four straight matches at the Red Bull Arena in all competitions before kick-off, Schawrz's men played with plenty of confidence in front of their own supporters, and made that five wins on the bounce in emphatic fashion.

Morgan, who spent two seasons with Miami in 2020 and 2021, was crucial, and went off to a standing ovation. 

His opener brought up the Red Bulls' quickest strike of the season, and he now tops the MLS scoring charts with five goals this season. Vanzeir, meanwhile, has risen to the top of the assists list (five).

Suarez fails to step up in Messi’s absence

It has been an impressive start to the season for Miami, who went into this clash at the top of the East, but they Gerardo Martino's side were taught a harsh lesson, and they did not have Messi to bail them out.

Suarez was tasked with taking on the responsibility in attack, but the Uruguayan was not at his best and struggled to get involved in the action in the final third.

Indeed, after picking up a booking for dissent in the first half, he did not really provide a spark at all until late on, when his cross diverted off a defender and onto the crossbar.

It was a day to forget for Miami, who did have a consolation goal ruled out by VAR, and the Herons will now have to lick their wounds and hope Messi, who has skipped international duty, is back sooner rather than later.

Eric Ramsay believes Manchester United have all the ingredients to go to the next level under Ineos – but Erik ten Hag’s former coach felt he had to leave for a dream first managerial job at Minnesota United.

The 32-year-old swapped Uniteds following March’s derby defeat at Manchester City, with his move to the Twin Cities seeing him become the youngest permanent manager in Major League Soccer history.

It is an exciting new chapter in an impressive coaching journey that led Ramsay to Swansea, Shrewsbury and Chelsea before joining Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching set-up in June 2021.

Initially focused on individual players and set-plays, the Welshman’s remit broadened over time and he is looking forward to putting his experiences into practice as Minnesota’s second-ever head coach.

“I have never been desperate to be a head coach by a certain age or a certain point,” Ramsay told the PA news agency ahead of his first match in charge against Los Angeles FC this weekend.

“But I felt naturally I was sort of gravitating toward that opportunity coming.

“I’ve had some opportunities over the course of the last two years to go into the Championship or League One and for whatever reason haven’t pursued those.

“The club itself is phenomenally well set up. The ownership is really stable. I think that’s incredibly attractive for a first-time head coach.

“From a club perspective, the league and the wider US context, in terms of the competitions being held here in the coming years, the general feel around the sport, I think it’s as perfect an opportunity as I’ll get.”

Ramsay also had a stint working with Wales during his time at United, where he felt like he squeezed in a lot at an institution that garners “endless attention” and “feels like no other club”.

The 32-year-old never got caught up in the background noise – “if you as a coach were to be too drawn into that then you’d lose focus on what you’re there to do” – and enjoyed his time there despite the difficult spells.

“To have the opportunity to be one step removed from three managers and Michael Carrick, working at Man United over two-and-a-half years, I don’t think you’re getting better preparation for your own role as head coach because it’s a really trying set of circumstances with a lot of intensity,” Ramsay said.

“(Erik) is obviously incredibly focused, has real conviction as to how he wants the team to play, how he feels the group should be managed, as you’d expect of anyone who hits that level as a manager.

“Obviously, he’s had some difficult circumstances to deal with this year, so hopefully once that gets cleaned up then we’re going to see the trajectory recaptured that we saw last year.”

Injuries have proven the main difficulty in a bumpy season and Ten Hag is under the spotlight heading into Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against rivals Liverpool.

But Ramsay is confident better times lie around the corner at Old Trafford, having been impressed by new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his Ineos team.

 

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“As has been presented in the media and as I’m sure you’ve heard lots of people say, the Ineos vision for Man United is really exciting,” Ramsay said.

“They, as well, have a lot of conviction in how elite sports teams should look and feel.

“There is a genuine Ineos way that I think the combination of that and the way in which Erik wants to operate, it could be a really exciting combination.

“I think you’ve got some phenomenally bright people now attached to the club, through the likes of Dave Brailsford and the people that they will inevitably bring in to wrap around the existing structure.

“So, I do think all the ingredients are there for the club to really move on to the next level.

“I said this to the Ineos guys as I was leaving, I’m loathed in some senses (to go) because I think I was probably a nice fit for the way in which they wanted to go about things.

“I felt like it would take a lot from them and their way of working.

“But, personally, I felt like this opportunity from my individual perspective was one that I couldn’t turn down in spite of all that positivity around the club.”

Lionel Messi sat out Inter Miami’s 3-2 home Major League Soccer defeat to Montreal on Sunday as he was rested.

Messi had played every minute of Miami’s first three MLS fixtures this season since joining up with co-owner David Beckham’s franchise in July, but watched from the stands as they slipped to their first defeat.

Miami’s assistant coach Javier Morales had hinted to reporters on Saturday that Messi could be rested, saying: “We all know Leo and he is a player who wants to play every game.

“I think we will have a conversation with him, see how he feels, see how he is and try to decide what is best for him because he has played 90 minutes every game and we will make the best decision thinking about the future.”

Messi took a heavy knock to the shin after scoring in Thursday’s 2-2 CONCACAF Champions Cup draw with Nashville, but Morales said that was not the reason why the 36-year-old did not feature.

Eric Ramsay has left Manchester United to join Minnesota United and become the youngest head coach in Major League Soccer history.

The 32-year-old Welshman, who was a first-team coach under Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford, is the latest British coach to cross the Atlantic, joining the likes of Phil Neville and Dean Smith.

In a statement issued by Minnesota United, Ramsay said: “I’m incredibly excited to be joining a club with such a strong football culture, a fanatic fan-base and a brilliant infrastructure.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of the club’s staff throughout the process and you can’t help but feel everyone’s passion for moving the club forward.”

Ramsay joined Manchester United as a coach under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2021 and also served as an assistant coach to the Welsh national team in 2023.

He started his career working with junior levels at Swansea and also acted as interim head coach at his home-town club Shrewsbury before moving to work with the Chelsea Under-23s.

Ramsay became the youngest British coach to earn his UEFA Pro Licence in 2019.

Minnesota’s Chief Soccer Officer Khaled El-Ahmad said: “After an extensive search that included dozens of impressive domestic and international candidates, we are confident that Eric Ramsay is the best choice to lead our club.

“His experience working with top-level players, coaches, and sporting staff at both the club and international level – as well as his alignment in playing style and development philosophy – all fit with the vision we have for the future of MNUFC.”

Eric Ramsay is set to take over at Minnesota United and become the latest British coach to take a management job in Major League Soccer.

The 32-year-old will become the youngest ever head coach in the United States and Canada’s top division when the Manchester United coach completes his move to the Twin Cities.

PA understands Ramsay has agreed a deal to take over at Minnesota following next weekend’s Manchester derby and the Welshman will swell the number of British head coaches in MLS to six.

Gary Smith is in charge of Nashville, John Herdman is at Toronto and ex-England international Phil Neville recently took charge at the Portland Timbers having previously managed Inter Miami.

Dean Smith, the former Aston Villa and Leicester boss, is another recent appointment by an MLS club having joined ambitious Charlotte FC in the winter.

The 52-year-old took charge of his first competitive match on Saturday as they won their season opener 1-0 at home to New York City FC, who are coached by fellow Englishman Nick Cushing.

“If somebody asked for my advice, I would say to anybody in England come to MLS,” Cushing, who previously managed Manchester City’s women’s team, said.

“Just purely based off, firstly, the challenge is like the Championship in the sense of its really competitive.

“The opportunity to win is there if you have a good strategy, good structure, good sort of way of working. You have to back your coaching, your staff and your recruitment.

“But also we’re playing in the Carolina Panthers stadium in front of 65,000. It’s amazing.

“The games never stop. The games will go for 96 minutes. They don’t die down. Apple TV, the infrastructure around this league is excellent, so I don’t think we can affect the perception on that end.

“I’m sure Dean will say in three, four, five months’ time that this was a great move for him because he will see that you get to see the whole of America, the challenge is great.”

Smith pipped former Chelsea and Everton boss Frank Lampard to the Charlotte post and British coaches of all ages are paying increasing attention to MLS.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask if I need any more coaches wanting to get out here,” the former Villa boss said.

“I’m still on the board of the LMA (League Managers Association) so I’ll do a talk for them on what it is like.”

There are also Brits in senior positions in MLS, including DC United’s Scottish general manager Ally Mackay and NYCFC sporting director David Lee.

The latter joined New York Red Bulls from hometown club Exeter in 2011 and then went on to become one of the first employees at NYCFC three years later.

Lee has seen marked change in approach during his time in MLS, from clubs being more open-minded to more experienced coaches wanting to move Stateside.

“I would say that five to seven years ago there was a perception that foreign coaches didn’t work,” Lee said.

“Over time, clubs started to realise that it’s not where you’re from, it is just how good you are. There is a core American coaching tree in MLS, but more clubs are being more adventurous.

“The level of our league has increased to where it becomes more interesting for English coaches than it would have been five years ago.

“The standard has improved, budgets have improved.

“I’d have been surprised if five years ago you could have got someone like Dean Smith into this league. That is a big change.”

Ashley Westwood was on the brink of retirement at Burnley but the rejuvenated midfielder now wants to play into his forties as he lives the American dream with Charlotte FC.

In April 2022, the distraught 33-year-old suffered a devastating ankle injury as he challenged for the ball with West Ham’s Nikola Vlasic.

For a while Westwood’s 286th Premier League appearance looked set to be the last match he would ever play.

The gruelling journey back to fitness took its toll on the usually upbeat midfielder, who did not play again for Burnley before leaving last January.

Westwood took a calculated gamble by moving to Charlotte, playing in what was their second Major League Soccer season, and could not be happier with the outcome.

“It’s incredible,” the smiling Charlotte skipper said. “Even last year I was close to retiring, very close.

“I broke my ankle, made a mess and then it got to halfway through the rehab and I was like ‘I’ve had enough, I’m done’.

“Even before that I was getting fed up with it. With what Burnley did, it was just constantly trying to stay above the relegation.

“I had like 10-12 years of it, and it gets a lot. Mentally it gets tough, so then I fell out of love with it.

“But then (came) the opportunity to come here and it’s just the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Westwood says Burnley “still hold a special place in my heart” and returned to visit Vincent Kompany and his former team-mates over Christmas.

The Crewe youth product is eternally grateful to the Clarets for allowing him to join Charlotte – somewhere he sees as his long-term home having been unable to place it on a map until not so long ago.

“It’s given me a massive boost, a new lease of life,” the former Aston Villa midfielder said of life in the Queen City, where Dean Smith was recently appointed head coach.

“I could have some regrets because I asked to leave Burnley and Vinny (Kompany) was brilliant, he let me go.

“I was honest with him. I went in and said ‘listen, this has come about’ but they needed to get me on a free because of the wage structure.

“So, I spoke to Vinny and he said ‘we don’t want to lose you but I respect the decision’ and he sent me on my way.

“And it has given me a new lease of life. It’s been the best thing for me and my family – the kids are thriving, the wife’s enjoying it.

“Hopefully I’ll be going until I’m 40. I want to stay here a long time.”

Westwood moved to MLS at an exciting time for the sport in North America, with the 2026 World Cup following on the back of Lionel Messi’s blockbuster move to Inter Miami.

Little wonder some former team-mates, from England internationals to Premier League regulars, have expressed interest in following him across the pond.

“You’ve got Messi, (Luis) Suarez and even now I get texts from mates saying ‘what’s it like? I’d love to do it’, so it’s getting more appealing,” Westwood added.

“They’ve got the World Cup here and if they get that right it could take off. There’s a lot around the budgets and the way the wage cap is.

“Our owner is willing to do it (and pay more), he wants to go for it, but it’s just about getting all the other owners on board. If they get right, it can take off.”

Dean Smith wants to defy the doubters after rejecting opportunities to coach in the Championship to start a new chapter with ambitious Major League Soccer side Charlotte FC.

The 52-year-old returned to management in December, having just fallen short in his attempt to keep Leicester up during a short spell in the hot seat at the end of last season.

Smith takes charge of his first competitive match since the Foxes’ final Premier League game when Charlotte host New York City FC in their MLS opener this weekend.

The former Aston Villa boss beat England great Frank Lampard to the job and more than 60,000 will be at Bank of America Stadium for his first game in the dugout.

“I’d spoken to a few clubs in the UK, mainly Championship clubs,” Smith told the PA news agency.

“None of them felt quite right for me, so it was all about what the next opportunity was going to be.

“When this came about and I got asked if I wanted to join in the process, I just thought it’d be a challenge, it’d be exciting.

“It would get the juices flowing again, so to speak, because it’s something that I’ve not done before, never been out of the UK to coach and I thought it’d be really good challenge.”

 

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Smith joins a club entering their third MLS season, with former Premier League players Ashley Westwood and Scott Arfield among those in Charlotte’s squad.

Leicester fan favourite Christian Fuchs serves as one of his assistants, having retired in North Carolina and joined the coaching staff after skippering the team during their first campaign.

Smith joins them in Charlotte with a determination to help the team grow and improve on last season’s wildcard defeat at the start of the MLS play-offs.

“I think one of my drivers has always been to prove people wrong and try and get to that next level all the time,” the former Norwich, Brentford and Walsall manager said.

“I was fortunate enough to coach Brentford and build a team that Thomas (Frank) eventually took over and ended up getting into the Premier League.

“But also taking Aston Villa to the Premier League, I’m really proud of that because in 2010, 2011, I was coaching at Walsall, the under-14s, and my daughter was sitting on the side of the pitch doing her homework.

“So, you know, it’s been hard work to get where I am.”

Smith’s determination brings hope to Charlotte, who still have room to sprinkle stardust on their side by signing a marquee player over the coming months.

Put to Smith that Jack Grealish, his skipper at Villa, could do with a few starts right now, he laughed and said: “Yeah, I still speak to Jack very regularly.

“He’s just coming back from an injury. But he’s not done bad already at Manchester City and he’ll continue to do so, and England in the Euros.

“But, yes, we’re looking to add some quality into the squad. When I looked at the squad during this process, I just felt that there were areas that we could improve on.”

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber says they will do whatever it takes to compete with the likes of the Premier League and believes an eventual relaxation in their spending rules is inevitable.

The 29th season of the United States and Canada’s top division got under way on Wednesday, with Lionel Messi shining in Inter Miami’s 2-0 home win against Real Salt Lake.

MLS sent ripples around the world last summer by signing the now eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, kicking off an exciting new chapter in the ever-evolving competition’s history.

 

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The loosening of rules and restrictions around spending would help accelerate that progress, but Garber believes patience is key to maximising developments without risking instability.

“(From some there is) this pressure and this energy to spend more money and just accelerate what has been a very strategic and careful growth plan for the league,” the long-serving MLS commissioner said.

“And at some point that’s going to come. The market is going to dictate that.

“But we’re still in a world where we’re managing player engagement and player involvement on a global basis, managing our economics here.”

MLS clubs must currently adhere to a strict salary cap, with three Designated Players allowed outside of that budget to help attract the world’s best.

“We are living through a world where MLS is still a growth opportunity,” Garber said. “Now we’re seeing unique revenue here, so the Messi effect has been dramatic.

“I saw some article about their forecasted revenue. If we thought every team could deliver that by signing players, I could assure you that MLS would adapt its rules to be able to deliver that.

“Somebody wrote an article about how we’re thinking about how to evolve over the next number of years, are thinking in terms of strategic player spending.

“We will do whatever we need to do to grow our fan base, to build the competitiveness of our league, and to grow our revenues, and ultimately the credibility and viability of MLS on a global stage.

“Nothing is going to stop us from doing that. But we just want to be thoughtful about it.”

Messi’s arrival in Miami underlined MLS’ ambitious growth plans and the 2026 World Cup in the US, Canada and Mexico offers the chance to take a further giant stride.

Whether the 36-year-old is still playing by then remains to be seen, but the Argentina skipper’s swashbuckling display in Wednesday’s curtain-raiser suggests he has plenty left in the tank.

“Getting him signed was a statement about Major League Soccer – that we can compete, deliver a great experience for a player, a competitive environment,” Garber said. “One where they can further their career.

“There’s going to be another Lionel Messi at some point, and I hope that MLS is in a position to be able to sign that player. Who that player is today, I don’t know.

 

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“But it was a very, very competitive dynamic. I don’t think any of you thought that Messi was going to get signed by Miami when those discussions were going on with Barcelona and in Saudi Arabia.

“So, there’ll be another player that will come in that maybe will be part of the chapter book of our league, but there’s only one Leo.”

David Beckham’s Inter Miami want to become one of the world’s top clubs on the field and a globally-recognised brand like the New York Yankees away from it.

The Manchester United and England great has been a gamechanger for the ever-evolving Major League Soccer since swapping Real Madrid for the LA Galaxy in 2007.

That unique deal gave Beckham the option to purchase an expansion club at a discounted price, leading to the foundation of Inter Miami six years ago.

There have been bumps in the road since the team’s first season in 2020 but the arrival of Lionel Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – last summer has taken them to a new level.

Former Barcelona team-mates Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez have followed the Argentina skipper to a team that co-owner Beckham wants to aim for the stars.

Inter Miami assistant manager Javier Morales said: “I’m the fifth employee of this club so I know this club from the bottom.

“When I first spoke to David, he said he thinks this could be a big club. Obviously he came from Man Utd and he used to play for big teams. That is his idea.

“He wants Inter Miami to be a top team not just in the country but also in the world.”

 

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Ambitious Miami’s quality saw them installed as the overwhelming bookmakers’ favourites to end 2024 as MLS Cup champions ahead of Wednesday’s curtain raiser.

They opened with a 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake and their favourites tag marks quite the turnaround from last term, when their memorable Leagues Cup triumph came during a dreadful MLS campaign.

“Right now the mentality is different and they (the former Barcelona players) used to win everything, they used to win a lot,” said Morales, who has risen from academy coach to his current role as assistant to Tata Martino.

“They arrived last June with the club and the expectations for us here are high. For them it’s not going to be an issue.

“For the kids and the young players in the team it could be a little bit different but to have those players guide them is going to be a good mix.”

Beckham’s grand plans for Miami are bearing fruit off the field as well as on it.

The Florida outfit was the most-searched sports team on Google in 2023 and recently returned from a pre-season tour of Hong Kong, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Their eye-catching pink shirts are flying off the shelves as Messi’s arrival and the draw of Miami combine to help transform the team into a growing global brand.

Chief business officer Xavier Asensi believes that the unique combination creates an aura around a club that means “the sky is the limit”.

“Do you like baseball? I don’t,” Barcelona’s former chief commercial officer said. “But do you have a cap with the NY of the Yankees? How cool is that? So, imagine if you like baseball… for me, that is the potential we have.

“We have the potential of the sexiness, the brand that can be a fashion. People are wearing it and they know what it is.

“Sometimes people wearing the Yankees cap think it is New York and they like New York. But it is the baseball team. We have that potential.

“In order to unlock that, only the best are enough. We need to surround ourselves with the best people to unlock the potential that we have as a brand. This is not just football, we can go bigger and better.”

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham had a front row seat as star man Lionel Messi put on a show in the Major League Soccer curtain raiser against Real Salt Lake.

The Manchester United and England great flew to Florida for the season opener and will have liked what he saw from Tata Martino’s ambitious team in Wednesday’s 2-0 win.

Messi put in a man-of-the-match display, producing some outrageous footwork, seeing a free-kick cleared off the line and hitting the bar directly from a corner before setting up Robert Taylor’s opener.

The 36-year-old received a half-time hug from Will Smith – one of the stars in attendance at upgraded Chase Stadium – and continued to play with an irresistible swagger.

While Miami lost their way as a team after their dominant first half, they dug deep and eventually killed off vastly improved RSL.

Messi showed brilliant strength, speed and close control to drive forward through the middle before playing in Luis Suarez, who set up Diego Gomez to score in the 83rd minute.

That moment gave Miami new life and the former Liverpool striker saw a debut goal brilliantly denied by Zac MacMath, who was guilty of allowing Taylor’s first-half strike to squirm past him.

Salt Lake’s goalkeeper also thwarted Messi at the end of an incredible run down the right as the hosts ended a challenging second half on a high.

In truth, the only person able to keep up with the Argentina skipper on Wednesday was his personal bodyguard, who went up and down the touchline tracking the star throughout the game.

Lionel Messi and new signing Luis Suarez are set to star as David Beckham-owned Inter Miami kick off Major League Soccer’s biggest season yet.

More eyes are on the United States and Canada’s top division than ever before as the league’s 29th season gets under way in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

It is MLS’ earliest ever start to a campaign and begins with a standalone fixture as Miami play host to Real Salt Lake at newly renamed, and freshly upgraded, Chase Stadium.

Not only is the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner fit for Wednesday’s opener but Suarez is expected to make his competitive debut following his winter switch to Florida from Brazilian side Gremio.

Messi will be involved having overcome the inflamed adductor issue that saw him miss a high-profile pre-season friendly in Hong Kong, sparking fury from expectant ticket-holders.

“They’re playing and they’re ready to play,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said of Messi and the former Liverpool striker.

“If they’re required to play 90 minutes, we’re going to look at it always depending on the need of the team.”

Suarez is the latest former Barcelona star to rock up in Miami, where he has joined Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

“It’s good, very positive,” left-back Alba said on the eve of the MLS opener. “When we got here we found a coach, players and staff who are spectacular. Like a family. They treat us very well.

“For Luis, besides the fact we’re friends, he is going to bring us a lot in attack and is a great player.

“(The younger players) always listen when we talk and we are here to give them advice. We all get along well.

“In all teams you have veterans and young players, building a positive environment for the benefit of the team.”

Messi, Busquets and Alba have already won their first trophy in Miami’s eye-catching pink kit, having roared to victory in the inaugural Leagues Cup last year.

The competition provided a memorable start to their life in North America and Alba is eyeing more silverware this term.

“We have a lot of big players but that doesn’t mean anything, you have to show what you can do,” the former Spain international said. “It is going to be hard.

“Hopefully we can win all the titles. I understand the fans’ enthusiasm and the expectations they have for the team, but we have to show it on the field and we think we’re on a good path.”

When the Draw for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup took place last month, players from qualified teams to contest Round one waited with bated breath to see where in the bracket their team would be placed.

In fact, much of the anxiety around the announcement was focused on which Round One winner would advance to face last year’s Leagues Cup Champions Inter Miami –the team of Argentina superstar Lionel Messi –in the Round of 16.

In the end, the draw pooled another Major League Soccer (MLS) Nashville SC and Dominican Republic’s Moca FC as Round one opponents, and the two will crosswords to decide who will oppose Messi’s side in the Round of 16.

For Moca’s striker Gustavo Ascona, who is an Argentinian by birth, defeating Nashville and playing against Messi would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Playing against Messi would be my life’s dream, like for any Argentine. I went home for vacation at the holidays and everyone in my hometown was talking about me playing against Messi. It’s crazy, and it would be a dream. You really can’t describe it any other way,” Ascona said in a recent interview with Concacaf.com.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground, work hard in the first game, get the biggest advantage possible that we can get here at home and later we’ll see what happens,” he added.

Ascona is well aware that getting by their Round one opponents Nashville is no easy feat, but at the same time, he believes the task is by no means impossible, provided Moca executes efficiently against the 2023 Leagues Cup runners-up.

He recalled Haitian club Violette’s victory over MLS side Austin FC in last season Round of 16 as proof that Caribbean teams can get the job done.

“We know that it (Nashville) is a really difficult opponent. We know what kind of league they play in, but we have confidence in ourselves. We know what we can give, and sometimes football brings surprises. Just look at what Violette did last season. Why can’t we repeat that?” Ascona asked rhetorically.

The 36-year-old attacker enjoyed good form for Moca in the 2023 Concacaf Caribbean Cup, as he scored four goals over the course of eight games. It took a last-second equalizer by eventual champions Robinhood of Suriname, to defeat Moca FC in the semi-final.

However, Ascona and company were still able to secure a coveted spot in the Champions Cup with victory over Jamaican club Harbour View in the third-place decider.

“It was really hard, because we had other objectives and we had the game in Suriname in which they scored in the last minute, and we lost in penalties. That was a tough blow. But we regrouped to try to get that last spot, we set out to make it ours and we got it, so it was satisfying,” Ascona shared.

“It was hard and tough to keep a positive mindset because we had come off of losing another final in the domestic league here. It was really tough in Jamaica. It was a positive to get a win there and then manage the game here, but they fought until the very end,” he noted.

Reaching the Champions Cup was also a historical moment for Moca, as it marked the first ever Champions Cup qualification for the club. They now join Cibao FC and Atletico Pantoja as Dominican Republican clubs to achieve the feat in recent years.

That accomplishment and, by extension, the responsibility as the country’s lone representative on this occasion, is something that Ascona doesn’t take lightly.

“The truth is that when one arrives to a team, you always think about making history, in leaving something. This is my third year with Moca and thankfully things are going well for me. Now we’ll just see if we can keep progressing in this stage that we are in and play against some of the other big clubs in the tournament,” Ascona reasoned.

“It’s really wonderful to have that responsibility of being the only Dominican team in this tournament. I think every fan of Dominican football is going to be following that game, so we are going to have the support of a lot of people,” he ended.

Luis Suarez's performances for Gremio show he would have few problems in adapting to Major League Soccer if he joins Inter Miami, says former Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Suarez is reportedly in talks with Miami over a move which would see him reunited with former Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

The Uruguayan is seemingly closing in on a one-year deal with the MLS outfit after spending 2023 with Gremio, who finished second to Palmeiras in their first season back in Brazil's top flight, having spent the previous campaign in the second tier. 

Suarez scored 17 league goals for Gremio throughout the year, also adding 11 assists to give him the most total goal involvements (28) in the Brasileirao.

The striker, who will turn 37 in January, hit 27 goals across all competitions before departing as a free agent, and recently retired defender Chiellini says he would thrive in MLS.

"You see what Suarez did this year in Brazil… Brazil is not considered a weak league," Chiellini, who was famously bitten by Suarez at the 2014 World Cup, told Stats Perform. 

"Suarez scored almost 30 goals, we still see something there and it's still really good. Now football is changing all over the world. 

"There are less differences between some leagues in Europe and other countries. The only league that's very different from every other one, I think, is the Premier League. 

"But to be honest, the other ones we can compare, and you can also find good players in some weird leagues that some years ago you never considered. Now it is very different."

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