Will Lionel Messi finally make the U.S. a soccer nation?
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After a move to Inter Miami, the world's biggest soccer star has more than a new team to take on — he's being counted on to popularize Major League Soccer too.
Who is he? Some say he's the GOAT, others the greatest soccer player of his generation. Perhaps most notoriously, he's a recent World Cup champion.
What's the big deal? Well, Americans love their sports, and more importantly, they love being good at them. But is the nation ready to embrace soccer into the fold of national pastimes like baseball, basketball and the NFL?
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What are people saying? Don Garber, the commissioner of the MLS since 1999, spoke with NPR's Scott Detrow on what comes next.
On the early, uncertain days of the MLS:
The league launched after the 1994 World Cup with great fanfare. The World Cup was very successful in the United States. And then we went through a period in the early 2000s ... where we were thinking of shutting the league down.
And then we got a call that maybe David Beckham would like to come to Los Angeles.
And at that time, it was just spectacular. And the crowds were enormous. If not for David, there's no Messi. And frankly, I would say, if not for David coming here in 2007, I'm not sure the league would be on the trajectory that we have been on.
On the most important next steps for MLS to compare with the big European leagues and other major domestic sports:
It really is [about] being part of the global conversation of international football. At the end of the day, we're competing against big, established soccer football leagues that have enormous reach and fan bases that have a hundred years of history, that have got generational support. And that's the marketplace. That's the audience, particularly with a global media partner, that we're very focused on.
And on closing that gap:
We're still in the earliest days of MLS, right? So we look at, really, what the future opportunity is. And if you think about things like our development programs, our homegrown player systems, our transfers that continue to grow in terms of our sales of international players — all of them are beginning to be part of the global conversation. And eventually, being part of that family, ultimately, is going to lead to the kinds of opportunities like the Lionel Messi opportunity.
So, what now?
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