Meet Messi’s Inter Miami teammates as they plan to seize ‘our moment’

Lionel Messi shocked not only the soccer world, but the entire sports sphere when he announced he would sign with Inter Miami CF and make the move to Major League Soccer.

The MLS has been able to acquire high-level talent before, with global stars like Garreth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among them, but nothing can compare to Messi playing in America.

But who will we line up with? Sure, other complementary stars who Messi played with at FC Barcelona are here now as well, like midfielder Sergio Busquets. More are on the way.

While these players have their own brand, their own image, and their own status, it’s the rest of the team that fans may not know too much about. Inter Miami, after all, is in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference at the All-Star break and has been deemed a “small club” by many MLS fans.

But there is time to storm back into the playoff race when the MLS schedule resumes. Inter Miami has 12 games remaining and trails Chicago FC by 10 points for a wild-card spot.

Jorge Mas, the franchise’s co-owner, believes in where the club is headed. Speaking Sunday at Messi’s “Unveiling,” he said “we are recipients of the legacy of the greatest player in the world. … Today, it sits in the hands of Inter Miami and its fans. This is our moment. Our moment to change the football landscape in this country.”

Inter Miami fully understands the responsibility of having such a great player on the roster. A player like Messi is transcendent and can change the luck of a franchise at any point in time.

And this week, fans will begin to get a sneak peek at what that might look like, when Messi, Busquets and Inter Miami play in the Leagues Cup Friday vs. Cruz Azul at DRV PNK Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale. This will be a non-MLS match, but it will serve as a precursor of what’s to come.

In the interim, let’s take a closer look at some of Messi’s new teammates who he began training with on Tuesday.

Josef Martinez, 30, began his MLS career with Atlanta FC, and scored his first career hat trick one week after joining the club. It was the first three-goal game in franchise history. (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF)

Josef Martinez, Striker

Before Messi’s signing, Martinez was arguably the best, and most recognizable, player on the team. The 30-year-old striker started his journey with Caracas FC in Venezuela.

After a relatively average career that saw him bounce around a few teams — most notably the BSC Young Boys — Martinez was sent on a loan to Atlanta FC of the MLS. He fit right in, scoring his first career hat trick one week after joining the club. It was the first three-goal game in Atlanta FC history.

In just his first year in the MLS, Martinez scored 20 goals and finished in the league’s Best XI, a designation for the most accomplished players. He would finish the 2018 season with 31 goals, breaking the regular-season MLS record. He also won the MLS Golden Boot trophy, an MLS Gold Cup MVP award, and an MLS All-Star Game MVP honor. In 2019, he finished third in MVP voting with 33 goals in all competitions.

He was traded to Inter Miami this season, and in 19 game appearances, he has started 14 and scored six times. His veteran presence has been huge, and he is well aware of what Messi brings to the table to add to that.

“It’s a lot of change,” he said last week. “For not only the club but for the city as well.”

A veteran goalkeeper, Drake Callender, 25, has been with Inter Miami CF since 2020, but he didn’t get the chance to start until last season when he allowed 1.54 goals per 90 minutes. (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF)

Drake Callender, Goalkeeper

In arguably the hardest position in sports, Callender is the main man of the defense, shutting down opposing strikers from scoring.

A veteran with international experience, Callender, 25, has been a part of the team since 2020, but didn’t get the chance to start for Inter Miami until last season when he allowed 1.54 goals per 90 minutes. He often stays within the 70% save range and has the ability to hunker down and have great defensive performances, with six clean sheets in two seasons.

Amid Inter Miami’s struggles this year, Callender has allowed an average of 2.4 goals in his last five matches. He knows that needs to improve, and he also knows that will need to happen amid an international media circus over the next few months.

“Stay focused on what we are in control of,” Callendar said last week. “[And that] is how hard we work, our effort, team morale, training… and all that.”

Callender has witnessed the franchise’s development, and as this new star-laden phase begins, “it is something I am super grateful for… it is great to see new players come to the team.”

An up-and-coming defender, Ian Fray, 20, was born and raised in Coconut Creek, and joined Inter Miami CF’s youth academy in 2019. He has grown into one of the more promising prospects on Inter Miami’s roster, and should benefit from being around Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets. (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF)

Ian Fray, Defender

Among the narratives around Messi joining Inter Miami, has been the one that says it will be beneficial to the youth of the club. There is no better example of this than Fray, 20, who was born and raised in Coconut Creek, joined Inter Miami’s youth squad in 2019, and has grown into one of the finer young prospects in the franchise.

As a defender, Fray doesn’t score much. However, his mechanics and speed allow him to be a strong contributor. In his 11 games, he has recorded 18 tackles. And the biggest appeal to Fray’s game is how young and raw he is. The upside will be there for years to come.

“Everyone is excited about it, the whole city is,” Fray said last week, with regard to Messi’s debut. “But, we are just focused on the next game.”

He later added that there is “a fire in us, and we are taking it game by game, and we are turning a corner.”

A 19-year-old Inter Miami CF prospect who likely grew up watching Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, Allen is a homegrown player who was born in Pembroke Pines and joined the club’s youth academy in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Inter Miami CF)

Noah Allen, Defender

Allen is someone who likely grew up watching Messi. During the superstar’s legendary 2011-12 season, Allen was just eight years old. Now at the still-young age of 19, Allen is preparing to take the field with one of the greatest.

With only eight matches played this season, Allen is an off-and-on contributor at this stage of his career, but he makes the most of his opportunities on the pitch.

Also a homegrown player, who was born in Pembroke Pines, Allen joined Inter Miami’s youth academy in 2019. Like Fray, he is among the players fans may see in an Inter Miami uniform for the next decade.

At a training session last week, with regards to Messi’s debut and the new roster of Inter Miami, Allen said simply that “everyone is looking forward to the future.”

There are legions of soccer fans across South Florida who would agree.

Anthony Milian is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Digital Broadcasting. He enjoys watching and analyzing sports, reading and learning more about sports history, and spending time with his family and friends