Lionel Messi can help make MLS the world’s best league – Bradley Wright-Phillips
Bradley Wright-Phillips believes football in North America can become “unstoppable” on the back of Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami and the 2026 World Cup.
It is a decade since the former Manchester City and Southampton striker swapped English football for Major League Soccer to join New York Red Bulls.
Wright-Phillips last year retired in sixth on the MLS all-time goals list having enjoyed a ringside seat to the sport’s growth in North America and says the best is yet to come.
Having signed an eye-catching broadcasting deal with Apple in 2022, further developments will be fuelled by Messi’s move to Miami and the World Cup being hosted in the USA, Canada and Mexico in three years’ time.
“My first reaction to Messi coming out was I just couldn’t believe it,” Wright-Phillips told the PA news agency.
“Honestly, even now until I see him run out on an MLS pitch, I can’t really fathom what it’s going to be. It’s hard to even picture that. Even now it doesn’t seem real to me. It’s Messi!
“Unbelievable time. I feel like I retired at the perfect time, just to be involved in what’s going on.
“Messi obviously, Apple taking over and then you’ve got the World Cup coming in ‘26. What more can you ask for?”
Put to Wright-Phillips that the sport in North America seems to be going from strength to strength, he said: “Yeah, it does. The potential and the ceiling is higher than ever.
“If it’s done right, it can be unstoppable – best league and country in the world for football, right? Wouldn’t you say so?”
MLS is certainly on an exciting trajectory and Messi’s arrival will spark unparalleled interest in the competition.
“The league is not only getting the best player in the world,” says Wright-Phillips, who played for LAFC and Columbus Crew as well as the Red Bulls.
“If you just think about the average fan that doesn’t watch MLS, but now because Messi’s here they’re going to watch MLS.
“They now get see a Carles Gil, a Hany Mukhtar, young players like Noel Buck – these are players that we know are good.
“But now you’re watching because you want to see Messi and the average fan gets to see that player or they get to see the atmosphere in St Louis or Austin.
“That’s what’s exciting about it. It’s not just that we’re going to see Messi play, it’s what Messi exposes globally.”
As well as Messi’s macro impact, Miami will be desperate for the Argentina star to improve fortunes at DRV PNK Stadium.
The David Beckham co-owned team languish bottom of the Eastern Conference thanks to a difficult campaign that led to Phil Neville’s recent sacking.
Ex-Barcelona boss Tata Martino has come in, while Messi’s former Nou Camp team-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are expected to join him in Florida.
“That tells me that they don’t just want Messi to come here and lose games,” Wright-Phillips added.
“The Inter Miami team isn’t doing very well this season, they’ve suffered a lot of injuries, they’ve had a change in the manager.
“There’s a lot of things they have to do but if you bring a Busquets, a Jordi Alba, you’re giving yourself, you’re giving Messi a chance to succeed.”