Messi’s move to MLS could also grow soccer scene in Houston

The Dynamo already played Inter Miami, so Houstonians won’t see the superstar at Shell Energy Stadium in 2023. But current and former Houston players believe big things are ahead.

Lionel Messi mural
AP Photo/Llazar Semini
Argentinian street artist Maximiliano Bagnasco takes a photo of a mural portraying Argentinian soccer superstar Lionel Messi, that he painted.

Houston Dynamo defender Franco Escobar is from the same city as soccer superstar Lionel Messi, started his career at the same club as Messi and has a tattoo of Messi on his thigh. The significance of last week's news that Messi will join MLS side Inter Miami is not lost on him.

"Having the luck of seeing him, going against him... truthfully it would be a dream because he's my biggest idol," Escobar said.

The Dynamo already played Inter Miami on April 22, so Houstonians won’t see the superstar at Shell Energy Stadium in 2023.

However, there is still a chance for the two clubs to face each other. Inter Miami and Houston Dynamo are on opposite sides of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup bracket. If they both win their semi-final matchups on August 23, the Dynamo will play Inter in Miami on Sept. 27.

Even if Houston doesn't end up playing Inter Miami this season, the deal to bring Messi to the U.S. can still be a big deal for the Dynamo and soccer in Houston. The move expands the league to a level that soccer has not seen before in the United States, according to Dynamo head coach Ben Olsen.

He believes Messi's signing only highlights how far the league has come since its formation in 1996, after the U.S. hosted the 1994 Men’s World Cup. Olsen referenced the signings of stars like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the new stadiums and the continuous expansion MLS has done since he first started playing in the league in 1998.

"This one, is just a whole other level of that... [on] all fronts, it pours gasoline on already a league that's moving very fast and is a destination for players across the country across the world" he said.

The deal is part of an decades-long effort to grow soccer in the United States.

"More people will be watching the league," said Brian Ching, Dynamo legend and co-owner of popular EaDo soccer bar Pitch 25.

He explained that when Messi left Barcelona to go to Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona lost money on sales and viewership, while PSG gained in both. As such, he expects the MLS to grow internationally, and domestically.

"You have to have been living under a rock to not have heard of Messi... [people] will want to watch when Miami comes to town," Ching said. "I'm sure there'll be more requests for Inter Miami games [at Pitch 25]."

When it comes to on the field, Messi has his work cut out for him. Inter Miami currently sits in last place in MLS’ Eastern Conference. Escobar acknowledges that the team will have to work hard to turn the team around, but he recognizes that a run of good form can have them back in the mix.

"Personally, I hope that it goes well for him and they can rebound," Escobar said.