Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami will not ‘blow the doors off’ MLS, says Taylor Twellman, as Apple TV analyst believes Herons ‘can be punched in the face’ following Leagues Cup win

Inter Miami will have Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba wearing pink this season – but Taylor Twellman doesn’t quite foresee the Herons dominating MLS.

Miami claimed the Leagues Cup last summer but fell back down to earth afterwards, winning just four of its final 12 league games, and Twellman thinks the fear factor is gone for the club’s opponents.

‘I don’t think they’re going to blow the doors off the way a lot of the experts believe that,’ the MLS Season Pass analyst exclusively told Mail Sports in a Zoom interview. ‘I just don’t see that.’

‘I think they can be punched in the face. I think [opponents] could be aggressive. I think you get after it. I think you can be very athletic and make them uncomfortable. I don’t think everyone else in the league this year is going to be as in awe as they were last year, and I think it’s going to make it difficult.

‘When Messi and Inter Miami showed up that last summer, I think initially everybody was like, ‘wait a minute, what, he’s on the other side of the field?… That’s not going to be there this year.’

Taylor Twellman doubts that Inter Miami will dominate MLS in Lionel Messi’s second season

Jordi Alba (left), Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets have teamed up in Miami

Jordi Alba (left), Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets have teamed up in Miami

In preparation of its February 21 season opener vs. Real Salt Lake, Miami undertook a massive amount of travel (over 23,000 miles) during its preseason, traveling to El Salvador, Texas, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong before wrapping things up in Tokyo on Wednesday, where they lost to Vissel Kobe on penalties.

And when the season does commence in a couple of weeks, the schedule will be packed with four different competitions for Miami – not to mention Messi’s international commitments as he looks to steer Argentina into the 2026 World Cup.

That, in Twellman’s eyes, gives the Herons and their aging core a fairly small margin of error, with Messi already missing his team’s Hong Kong friendly due to injury.

‘I think they have enough now to make it work as long as the… four big name players that are on this team – if they stay relatively healthy, and when they are healthy, they’re operating at 100%,’ he said. ‘I think they’ve got enough to have a successful season. But I also think it’s not as big of an ‘if’ as people think, I think it’s going to be tested at some point. 

‘Depth is going to be needed throughout the entire season for Inter Miami and if they go to the final in every competition, they could play upwards of 59 to 61 games [on] the year. That’s a lot. They’re going to need everybody they can, so that’s why I say that it’s a bigger concern.’

Messi, 36, has dealt with an adductor injury this preseason, Suarez, 37, has been affected by an ongoing knee problem and Busquets, 35, left Wednesday’s friendly with an ankle injury. Alba is 34 as well.

Messi was an unused substitute in Hong Kong, prompting anger in the 40,000-person crowd

 Messi was an unused substitute in Hong Kong, prompting anger in the 40,000-person crowd

Meanwhile, the team will be without some younger legs too: 21-year-old Facundo Farias will miss the entire season with a torn ACL and 18-year-old Benjamin Cremaschi will miss two to three months with a sports hernia, according to the team.

‘What I saw after Leagues Cup last season – I saw a different team,’ Twellman added, referring to a period that saw Messi at one point miss four straight games through injury.  

‘I saw a team that now got to see Major League Soccer, had to play a ton of games. … I think it’s gonna be a bit more of a grind than people think.’

Miami will be hoping that Suarez can avoid injury after scoring 17 goals for Gremio in last season’s Brazilian Serie A. And while he is working with ‘half of a knee’ in one leg according to what Twellman has heard, the ex-USA and New England Revolution striker is still backing the Uruguayan to deliver.

‘First off, he’s one of the best center forwards of his generation. But between the ears, the movement is still there,’ he said.

Twellman, seen at MLS Media Day in 2023, is the lead analyst for MLS Season Pass on Apple TV

Twellman, seen at MLS Media Day in 2023, is the lead analyst for MLS Season Pass on Apple TV

‘So the legs may not be there, but it doesn’t matter. He’s still between the ears operating at a clip or two higher than the players around him. You couple that with Messi, Alba, Busquets, I think Suarez is the X-factor. I think if you get 15 goals-plus from him in the regular season, I think you’re cooking with gas because you know, Messi is gonna get his. And I think there’s gonna be a few others that get theirs.’

That list of ‘others’ could include journeyman Robert Taylor, who enjoyed a purple patch during last year’s Leagues Cup run and the newly-signed wide man Julian Gressel, who Twellman called ‘arguably one of the best crossers of the ball’ in the league.

Still, this is a team that will go as far as its Big 4 takes it, and Twellman expects the rest of the league to smell blood when they’re opposite Miami.

‘They’re going to be circled on every schedule,’ he said. ‘But they’re going to be now circled for different reasons: ‘Wait a minute, we’re going to prove that last year was this league isn’t as easy as you think.'”

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