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Lionel Messi, Atlanta United set to face each other twice in 2023

Here’s when the Five Stripes will take the field against him.

US club Inter Miami signs Argentine superstar Messi Photo by Arturo Jimenez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It’s officially official: Lionel Messi is an Inter Miami player. Just over a month after he announced his intentions to sign for the club partially owned by David Beckham, Inter Miami made the official announcement of his signing.

Messi will be available for selection for Tata Martino on Friday, July 21, as Miami face Cruz Azul in both teams’ Leagues Cup opener at DRV PNK Stadium. His first MLS match will be August 20 against Charlotte FC.

As for Atlanta United, it will have the opportunity to face Lionel Messi twice this calendar year: once in Leagues Cup and once in the MLS regular season. There’s the slight possibility of playoffs as well should Miami make a dramatic climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings: the Herons are on 18 points, 11 points behind 9th-place Chicago Fire FC but having played 1 fewer match.

July 25, 7:30 p.m. - DRV PNK Stadium (Leagues Cup)

While Messi’s debut will likely be a few days prior, there’s still sure to be plenty of buzz around the Herons’ ground when Atlanta United pay a visit on July 25. And there will be 2 other storylines at play: not only will Thiago Almada be pitched against his countryman and idol for the first time in a competitive setting, but it will be the first match for Martino against the club he led to MLS Cup in 2018. (Under normal circumstances, the latter would be the main talking point, but these aren’t normal circumstances.)

Sept. 16, 7:00 p.m. - Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MLS Regular Season)

Multiple narratives will be at play on Sept. 16 when Messi-mania comes to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The date was already circled as it was set to be Josef Martinez’s return to the city he called “my Barcelona” until his acrimonious departure. Messi being in town and Martino coaching an MLS match in the Benz for the first time since the 2018 MLS Cup Final — he coached the Mexico men’s national team a few times during their stops in Atlanta over the past several years — adds to the talking points. Plus, the stadium will be opened to full capacity.

There’s also the burning question of if Messi will actually play in this one. The answer has to be “yes” if Miami are in the playoff chase; if not, then it’s not unfair to surmise that he’ll pop up on the injury report with an “undisclosed” injury. Just putting it out there!