Star-studded Inter Miami open MLS season vs. Real Salt Lake

League: MLS

Posted on: 20 Feb, 2024 at 06:15 PM

Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Suarez makes his MLS debut next to former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi on Wednesday night, with his addition stacking expectations even higher for Inter Miami as the 2024 season opens against visiting Real Salt Lake.

Messi already is universally recognized as the greatest player of his generation -- and potentially ever -- after leading Argentina to the 2022 World Cup and winning his eighth Ballon d'Or last year.

The addition of Suarez gives Messi a third former Barca teammate on Miami's squad and a much-needed secondary goal-scoring option. A combination of the timing of his summer debut and injuries meant the majority of Messi's goals came outside of league play in 2023. Leonardo Campana was Miami's top league goal scorer with nine.

Suarez -- who has said this will be his final professional season -- scored 17 goals and added 11 assists in 36 games for Gremio last season in Brazil's top division. And while Messi still is the headliner, his old-turned-new attacking partner also is a reason the Herons are oddsmakers' strong favorites to win the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield.

"It's clear we haven't won anything yet," Jordi Alba, another Miami and former Barcelona teammate, told "We want to win every trophy we're playing for. It's going to be very complicated because there are some very well-prepared teams with the same dreams as us, but I think we have a very good team."

They'll begin the season against a Real Salt Lake side that finished fifth in the Western Conference last season and lost their first-round playoff series to a Houston Dynamo side that reached the West final.

The Claret and Cobalt have influential midfielder Pablo Ruiz back after he underwent knee surgery last August. And they'll presumably have a full season with Cristian Arango, the Colombian striker who scored six times in 11 matches following his transfer from Liga MX's Pachuca last summer.

Even so, RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni is under no illusions about the difficulty of Wednesday's challenge against Messi and company.

"One of the greatest players of all time for a reason," Mastroeni, who was born in Argentina but grew up in Arizona, said of Messi. "It's very tough to game plan around a player that can make a difference at any moment of the game."

--Field Level Media