Welcome to Onside/Offside! Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world, including standout performances, games you might have missed and what to keep an eye on in the coming days.
This week, a review on the first three episodes of Apple's Messi Meets America docuseries as we reflect on a summer that saw Lionel Messi's monumental arrival to Inter Miami, which shook the American soccer landscape and ended in a historic Leagues Cup trophy. LME was there for all it, covering before, during and after Messi's arrival to Inter Miami, his debut and the Leagues Cup tournament for ESPN, which included a one-on-one exclusive with Messi. Here are his thoughts on the documentary.
Beckham on Messi's impact in America
Using important voices within Inter Miami -- from co-owners David Beckham to Jorge Mas, to manager Tata Martino and the squad, including Messi himself -- the first three episodes are all focused on Messi's arrival and the club's incredible run in the Leagues Cup trophy, which I can say firsthand, was a ridiculous summer roller coaster. You'd need 10 Taylor Swifts visiting Travis Kelce and the Chiefs to understand just how big July and August were in American sports media as soon as Messi took over and arrived in Fort Lauderdale.
I think the series does a good job at chronicling the magnitude of the moment, but in the first episode, Beckham, who made his own volcano-like announcement in 2007 when he signed for the LA Galaxy thus changing the landscape of MLS forever, does specifically well to explain what Messi's arrival to America means to everyone, not just Inter Miami fans.
"We made this decision to bring Leo to Miami, not just for us, not just for our fans," Beckham said. "But we did it for the league, we did it for the sport and we did it for America."
Inter Miami co-owner details the 'incredible' last few days since Lionel Messi decided to join the club.
Beckham was instrumental in Messi's arrival. Not so much in the specific, logistical aspects (that was Jorge Mas' job, who did a lot of legwork to make this happen) but in making sure Messi understood the environment he was arriving in.
"He guided me and told me a little bit about his experience," explains Messi in the first episode. "What it had been for him to come and play here. When he made the decision, but at the same time he told me that things now were not the same because the league had grown a lot since his arrival."
Without Becks -- in more ways than one -- there would be no Messi in MLS. Pure and simple.
Messi's impact on the squad
Having this kind of documentary is beneficial for staff and squad access and how much Messi has impacted the entire setup. I liked how many voices from Inter Miami are featured heavily, including Tata Martino. There's a great scene when the Argentinian manager -- who has managed Barcelona, three national teams and 2018 MLS Cup winners Atlanta United -- is entering the training facilities for the first time and the security guard asks him, "Who are you?" and Tata with a smile replies, "I'm the coach!"
Many first-team players are featured including Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, as well as young academy graduates and Miami-born David Ruiz and Benjamin Cremaschi, who give us some really nice moments with their respective families, explaining what playing next to Messi feels like. The scene with Cremaschi eating with his father Pablo -- who played rugby with the Argentinian national team -- is especially touching.
My favorite, however, is DeAndre Yedlin. Anyone who has interviewed Yedlin can tell you the same thing. He gives excellent stories and quotes. Throughout the series, he explains in detail the significance of having Messi as a teammate.
"It's an extra motivation to raise my game," says Yedlin, as he talks during the scenes of Messi's debut against Cruz Azul back in July 21 at DRV PNK stadium. "How close to Messi's level can I get? That's the pinnacle of the sport."
Yedlin gives a great anecdote in that game, when it's tied at 1-1 and Messi earns a free-kick in stoppage time. "I went over to the sideline and told Tata and said that my hamstrings are cramping," he recalls. "But Tata says, 'Don't worry. Leo will score this and then we'll go inside and it will be finished.' I was like 'okay.'"
And that's exactly what happened. The highlights of the Leagues Cup tournament really seemed cinematic, almost unbelievable, all the way through to the final, which was won on penalties against Nashville. The doc does a good job at reliving all those moments and seeing how Inter Miami, as a team, completely transformed upon Messi's arrival. It was a historic competition for the club and as Beckham said earlier in the doc, the significance of it was not only for Inter Miami.
Messi and the Latino community
The first three episodes also do a good job at illustrating the community around the club, and this is an important component, arguably the most important after Messi himself. We meet local business owners and soccer fans -- from Dallas to Philadelphia -- explaining what Messi's arrival means to them. Here is where the Latino audience is especially important because to the Latin American community, especially the immigrant Latino community in America, Messi is not just a superstar player, he is a symbol of Latin American pride. It goes beyond Argentinians.
"Everyone here's going to want to give Messi nonstop hugs, all the Hispanics, because we are all Messi" says Ezequiel Sierra Núñez, a butcher at La Suprema Market's Mexican restaurant in Frisco, Texas. Núnéz paid $800 to see Messi play when Inter Miami traveled to FC Dallas on Aug. 7 in the round of 16 of the Leagues Cup. "A thousand [dollars] would be nothing for me to go see Messi," he said.
"For people who are Argentinian or Latin American, Messi is a huge symbol of our culture," explains Eva Raggio, a reporter for Dallas Observer. "If we had a Mount Rushmore, he would be on it. There's this uniting factor, which is soccer and Messi. It's a huge factor of South American culture. You always feel a little less isolated, only as you tend to do when you're an immigrant from another country."
Fans of Inter Miami and residents of the city can't wait for Lionel Messi to take to the field for their side.
It often feels like a promotional campaign
One of the issues with these types of docu-series projects -- from "All or Nothing" to "Welcome to Wrexham" -- is that it often can't escape from the luring desire to turn an honest story into an advertising campaign. And this is what sometimes happens here in Messi Meets America.
I mean, I get it. This is a product, it's not just a series, and it has to be maximized. But I think the best documentaries work when they show you all sides of the proverbial coin, when it completely peels all the onion and tells you a human story. It's why "Sunderland Til' I Die" and Asif Kapadia's "Maradona" work so well. Because they show the viewer the beautiful and the ugly side of this world, the cheerful and the painful, and in the end, that's what we all are. None of us are perfect and documentaries need to reflect that.
In this particular scenario, I would have liked to have seen more behind-the-scenes moments of Messi's first few weeks in Miami, especially with his wife Antonela Roccuzzo, who was pivotal in this decision to come to South Florida.
Was she anxious about yet another move? Especially after the two years at PSG that did not go to plan. How about the kids and how the family deals with the overwhelming paparazzi and media attention? Are they ready for yet another switch to a new country? Was there a worry from anyone over at MLS that Messi's signing was doing a lot -- perhaps too much -- at focusing on just him as he was taking way too much of the pie?
I would have liked to have seen intimate moments with Messi away from the club, from the training ground and interviews. He is a composed, humble player who just happens to be the greatest player the game has ever seen. But what is he like at home? I think there was a lot that could have been done to show you the vulnerable aspects of this story.
Perhaps we will see that in the next episodes as the doc dives into his absence due to injury, losing the U.S. Open Cup and the club's inability to make the MLS playoffs. There are also the questions over next season's ticket sales and how they have doubled in price. How do Inter Miami's loyal fans, who were there before Messi and will be there after, feel about it? There's a lot more to unpack.
Herculez Gomez analyses Inter Miami's 2-1 defeat to Houston Dynamo in the US Open Cup final as Lionel Messi watches from the sidelines due to an injury.
Wanted more from Fort Lauderdale and Inter Miami community
Carrying on with that sentiment, I wanted to see more of Miami and Fort Lauderdale because this is a community, especially Fort Lauderdale, that is hugely impacted by Messi's arrival.
Is there anyone there who doesn't know who he is? Are there worries about what happens when he doesn't play? Do Inter Miami fans worry that Messi is now attracting the wrong type of fan, the one who is here only for Messi and nothing else?
How about ticket sale prices? The secondary market is one thing but clubs surely have to do better to make sure they're not just inflating the prices due to one player, even if it is Messi. It's why I wrote this piece before he even arrived. It was important for me to hear about the community and how they felt about Messi's introduction to South Florida. I think the documentary needs a bit more of it, too.
As mentioned in the introduction of this week's column, here at ESPN we covered Messi's summer of madness extensively and I was there to see it. The documentary exemplifies what it meant to be there and see with our own eyes the incredible impact Messi had on America, not just Inter Miami.
Right before the Leagues Cup, we talked to the man himself about the move and his thoughts on MLS and soccer's presence and growth in the U.S.