LAFC defender Giorgio Chiellini said Lionel Messi's Inter Miami are the best team he's faced in MLS after a 3-1 loss at home for the Southern California club, and backed Miami as a possible playoff contender.
"This team [Miami] is the best, by far, that I've faced in MLS to be honest," said the 39-year-old former Italy international defender. "Yeah, by far."
Led by two assists from Messi, Miami did well to contain an LAFC side that weren't able to capitalize on chances at their raucous home ground at BMO Stadium, which was filled with an eclectic group of celebrities in attendance like LeBron James, Leonardo Di Caprio, Prince Harry, Selena Gomez, Will Ferrell, Jason Sudeikis and members of Rage Against The Machine.
Following the defeat LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo was blunt when asked in the post-game news conference about Messi's impact in MLS.
"He's the best player in the world, what did you think he was going to do when he came here?" Cherundolo said.
With two assists on Sunday, Messi brought up his totals to 11 goals and five assists in 11 games played in all competitions with Miami. Thanks to his form, Miami are undefeated in those 11 appearances, extending their ongoing club record that began with Messi's arrival in July.
Miami, formerly in last place in MLS' Eastern Conference, must move from 14th to at least ninth in nine games to be in the playoff conversation, but Chiellini expects to see them in the postseason.
"I think that they will join the playoffs," the former Champions League finalist said.
Chiellini also praised Messi for what he's done with both Miami and the league overall.
"The arrival of Leo in this league, it's very good, not just for Miami and for the game, but for the attention that everyone now gives to the MLS. It's a huge step for this league," he said.
Messi reiterated Miami's goal to make the playoffs.
"Now we are going to try to reach the aim of being in the top eight to try to aim for the league [title]," he said. "This is the path. We continue to grow. Obviously winning gives you confidence."
Messi acknowledged that LAFC presented a challenge for Miami.
"We said it before the game that this [game] was a beautiful test to see where we are at, what we are capable of," Messi said. "We were playing at a difficult pitch, against a very good rival, the defending champions. This is a good result ahead of what's coming.
"The team is growing every day, we've said that since the beginning. We were lucky to win a title [Leagues Cup], to reach a final."
Messi said he has no plans to ask to rest in future games.
"Physically I feel well. I continue to play, to cooperate, to help the team in what I can. I hope we can continue on this trend," he said.