The Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) effect is heating up Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States.

Messi, the greatest player in world soccer history, has arrived in the United States. American fans welcomed him with open arms. Ticket prices for Messi’s debut match against Cruz Azul (Mexico) in Group J of the 2023 League Cup on Sept. 21 soared to $110,000 ($140,000). That’s the most expensive in MLS history.

Messi scored the game-winning goal on a trademark free kick in second-half stoppage time to give his team a 2-1 victory.

The effects of Messi’s presence will not end with the crowd, his performance, or the public image of MLS. Messi is changing the entire league. He’s changing its constitution. He’s fueling the growth of a better league. He’s done what no one else has done before, and he’s done it in one fell swoop.

The latest controversy is Messi’s refusal to play on artificial turf. Messi has only ever played on natural grass in Europe, and he says he can’t play on artificial turf because of the risk of injury.

According to the UK’s GiveMeSports, “Messi’s announcement that he will not play on artificial turf means he will not play in the MLS’s six away games against teams that play on artificial turf, including Seattle, Portland, Charlotte, and Atlanta. It would be a huge loss in terms of attendance and commercial revenue.”

This is not the first artificial turf controversy in MLS.

When superstar David Beckham played for the LA Galaxy, he said, “As a professional athlete, it’s hard to play soccer on artificial turf. It has a negative impact on your body as a soccer player. Playing on artificial turf shatters your body. There should be natural grass in every game. There’s no doubt about it. No player can perform at a high level on artificial turf,” he said.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played for the LA Galaxy, agrees: “Playing on artificial turf is a risk for players’ bodies. I’m not saying it’s 100% injury-free, but the risk is higher. I played on artificial turf and I felt very bad,” he said.

But MLS hasn’t reacted much. The six stadiums mentioned above remained on artificial turf. Several MLS teams are sticking with artificial turf because it’s harder to maintain natural grass due to the challenging weather. It’s also much less expensive.

The case of Messi is different. MLS officially stepped up to the plate and announced plans to switch to artificial turf. It was a quick fix.

“We recognize the concerns about artificial turf. In the coming months, we’ll have natural grass at all of our stadiums. Clubs with artificial turf have offered to switch to natural grass. The transition to natural grass in MLS is a process that needs to happen in order for our top players to perform at their best.”


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