October 31 – Inter Miami and Lionel Messi’s planned two match tour of China looks to be crumbling after their second game was cancelled and the first moved to an alternative venue.
With the bulk of the MLS clubs in the early stages of the end of season play-offs, Inter Miami, who failed to make the play-offs, instead planned a trip to China to build fan and commercial support trading on the back of their superstar striker.
Two games were scheduled against Chinese Super League sides Qingdao Hainiu and Chengdu Rongcheng on November 5 and 8. The game against Chengdu Rongcheng at the 60,000-capacity Phoenix Hill Sports Park has been cancelled for “various reasons”, according to the tour organisers.
The announcement came after a venue change for the first match, originally announced as taking place at Qingdao Youth Football Stadium, before being moved to the smaller Wuyuan River Stadium in Haikou.
Messi last played in China in June for Argentina in a sold-out friendly against Australia in Beijing.
While the Chinese tour with Inter Miami now looks in jeopardy questions are being asked within the US soccer as to whether Messi’s arrival in the country is benefitting the US game or not.
Messi’s arrival was spectacular as he drove a poor performing Inter Miami to winning the inaugural League Cup tournament played between Liga MX and MLS clubs.
Messi was scoring at more than a goal a game and Messi-mania swept the country.
But as fast as his debut was in the new competition, he has been a slow burn in the MLS itself, and missed five crucial matches through injury at the end of the season as his new club attempted to push upwards from bottom position in the MLS when he arrived, towards a play-off slot.
The failure to make the play-offs opened up the opportunity of the China road trip but it also had MLS clubs, many of whom had benefitted from crowd uplifts at the prospect of seeing Messi at their stadia, wondering whether the MLS was becoming a Messi side-show.
Despite only playing a handful of games Messi is still being nominated in the end of season MLS awards as the league’s best ‘newcomer’.
This week Messi won another Ballon d’Or winner, the eighth time he has taken the top player award since he first won it in 2009.
Presumable his turning up to any MLS awards ceremony to pick up a newcomer award will depend on whether he is injured or not.
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