As it turns out, the cameras were rolling the whole time as Messi was the catalyst behind Inter Miami going from an Eastern Conference afterthought into Leagues Cup champions. And it's all chronicled in "Messi Meets America," the SMUGGLER Entertainment-produced six-part docuseries released on Apple TV+ on Oct. 11.
The first three episodes (the last three will be released later this year) offer a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes access. Here are some of the highlights.
Along with Messi and his former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Inter Miami's transformation was fueled by head coach Tata Martino, who took over the club in late June (just weeks before Messi's signing was announced).
Martino reveals how his connection with Messi, fostered during their time together at Barcelona and the Argentina national team, proved instrumental in his eventual MLS arrival, as it allowed Martino to pull some strings other coaches couldn't.
"I think now, after having been a world champion, above all, the time has come for him to enjoy himself without so much pressure on him," Martino told the Apple TV+ crew.
Martino's impact on the club is further explored in the docuseries, which shows how the Argentine made his imprint via a learning-on-the-fly approach as he led a newly-assembled group of players through their Leagues Cup venture.
Few athletes have ever displayed more aptitude for delivering in pressure moments than Messi, and he wasted precisely zero time in affirming that reputation with Miami. Of all the highlight-reel goals he's managed since his arrival, perhaps none were more dramatic than the incredible free-kick golazo in his July 21 debut vs. Cruz Azul at DRV PNK Stadium, which introduced Messi to the league in theatrical fashion.
With the group-stage match tied 1-1 in the game's waning moments, Inter Miami won a free kick in precisely the spot where Messi has produced so much damage throughout his career. The Apple TV+ footage of the now-iconic strike is second to none and will undoubtedly be considered an iconic moment in Messi's MLS legacy.
The brilliance of Messi's game isn't just found in the incredible goals and gaudy statistical output. It's also the degree to which he elevates everyone else around him – a trait evidenced by the docuseries’ deep dive into the rise of 18-year-old Inter Miami homegrown Benjamin Cremaschi.
The academy product is featured heavily throughout the opening episodes, giving a glimpse into just how far the stakes have been raised for him since he first burst onto the scene as a little-known prospect before making the jump to the first team. Now, he’s playing alongside the game’s best-ever player, a development that he describes as surreal.
Cremaschi wound up playing a pivotal role in Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup success, scoring a goal and adding two assists while also drilling the game-winning penalty kick in their Round-of-16 triumph at FC Dallas.
“It’s a dream come true, it’s what every kid dreams about. I’m living it,” Cremaschi said. “Sharing my day-to-day life with this player, which is the best player in the world without discussion, it’s just amazing that I can learn from him and that I can grow as a player and share the field with him.”
For all the excitement abound at DRV PNK Stadium since the arrival of the Barcelona trio, Inter Miami’s road games have fast become some of the league’s biggest spectacles in their own right. That aforementioned Round-of-16 bout at FC Dallas was the first taste of exactly what it’s like when the Herons take their show on the road. Fans packed Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, with Messi taking the field as the visiting opposition for the first time.
Needless to say, the buzz in the building is palpable from the Apple TV+ footage, and the game itself turned out to be arguably the most entertaining match of the tournament. Their semifinal matchup at the Philadelphia Union is also chronicled, providing a look at the atmosphere at Subaru Park, which features one of the most notoriously hostile crowds in MLS for visiting opponents.
Episode 3 culminates with Inter Miami’s trip to Nashville SC’s GEODIS Park for the Leagues Cup Final, which was also ripe for theatrics.
It pitted Messi against arguably his toughest adversary to that point in Hany Mukhtar, the league’s reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP award-winner, in a clash of superstar No. 10s.
The heroics of goalkeeper Drake Callender wound up central to Inter Miami’s hopes in the matchup, as the 26-year-old came up with several crucial saves to keep his team alive in their drive for their first trophy in their MLS history.