Inside Messi’s travel miles for Inter Miami and Argentina

When you think must-see events in 2024, what comes to mind? There’s high demand for NFL tickets and the seismic draw of international pop singer Taylor Swift, to name just two, but equally hyped this year has been the chance to see a 5-foot-7 Argentine soccer player called Lionel Messi play soccer around the USA. And he’s covering a lot of ground to make sure of it.

Swift’s Eras Tour last year smashed several records — including being the highest-grossing tour of all time — and logs 23 different countries on five continents (total: 65,901 miles) over nearly 20 months. The Chiefs played 23 games (including preseason and postseason), including a date with the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, Germany, on their way to another Super Bowl title, racking up over 28,000 miles along the way. However, when it comes to travel, Messi is simply built different.

In his first full year of a 2½-year contract with David Beckham’s Inter Miami of Major League Soccer, the 36-year-old Argentine is in a unique economic and logistical predicament. Soccer players in Europe face a lot of travel — especially if they play for teams that are competing in UEFA club competitions — but Messi’s schedule is next-level ridiculous. Not only is he playing across North America for his club — MLS runs on a March to November schedule unlike in Europe, where Messi used to play, which would run from August to May and allow a little rest in the summer — but he will also play in the Copa América for his national team, which is also being hosted in the United States.

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The layering of major domestic travel — Miami is in the extreme southeastern U.S., making it a long trip to most of its road games — with his Argentina duties makes for a dizzying schedule as Messi looks to defend the Albicelestes’ continental crown that they won in 2021.

Tickets to see Messi in the hot pink of Inter Miami on the road (up to $1,000 a ticket) or the sky blue and white of Argentina (Copa América group stage tickets average in the $300 range) have reached exorbitant prices. It’s not without controversy, either: Messi has already missed a few games for club and country in 2024 due to injuries or rest — the latter saw the Vancouver Whitecaps issue a statement before the game, causing disappointment for fans who spent more than 250 Canadian dollars ($180) to watch his magic up close.

Messi’s not alone in having a grueling calendar: The likes of Jude Bellingham (England) and Vinícius Júnior (Brazil) will play on Saturday for Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund before jetting off to join their national teams and prepare for more high-level competitive soccer this summer (Euros in Germany and Copa América in the United States). The Euro and Copa finals are both July 14; should either of their teams make it that far, they will receive only a brief respite before their club, Real Madrid, begins its preseason tour of the U.S. on July 31.

With changes coming to both the UEFA Champions League — which begins its expanded Swiss model format, with 36 teams instead of 32, in 2024-25 — and the 2026 World Cup growing from 32 teams to 48, we might well see wilder schedules for elite players in the future, too.

With Argentina the favorite to retain their Copa América trophy in the United States (+175 odds at ESPN BET) as well as Inter Miami becoming the favorite to win MLS Cup with their star-studded team (+180 odds at ESPN BET), Messi will rack up a lot of frequent flier miles. Let’s look at just how exhausting this year could be for the GOAT.


Preseason

Before the start of the MLS season, Inter Miami embarked on a preseason tour that nearly matched the circumference of the earth. They began their seven-game, 23,698-mile odyssey in El Salvador to play its national team before traveling back to the United States and then to Asia, making stops in Saudi Arabia — though no reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo — Hong Kong and Japan. Then they returned to Florida for their final warm-up game against Messi’s boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys.

Not only was this tour controversial for its scale — with Miami looking to cash in on the global marketability of its superstar, who has been joined by former Barca teammates Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez — but also for the first instance of Messi failing to appear. Fans in Hong Kong called for a refund after Messi sat out Feb. 4 because of an injury. It caused outrage — average ticket prices were 4,880 Hong Kong dollars ($624) for a game in which he didn’t feature — and prompted even the Government of Hong Kong to express disappointment toward Messi’s absence.

The situation further escalated when Messi was seen training in Japan before playing against Vissel Kobe three days later, which then led to Argentina’s friendlies that were supposed to be scheduled the following month in China being canceled by the organizers. Messi would later speak out, blaming an adductor injury for sitting out the match in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, in a span of 26 days, Inter Miami traveled through five different countries on two continents, clocking nearly 24,000 miles. And their season wouldn’t begin for another week after their return to Fort Lauderdale from Tokyo.


Regular season

Traveling across the United States and Canada is never easy for a lot of MLS teams: Trips can be as short as 45 minutes (between the stadiums of New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls) or as long as a six-hour flight (from Massachusetts, where the New England Revolution play, to the Vancouver Whitecaps). Messi completed a full round-the-world journey when Inter Miami went to face the LA Galaxy in February for just their second game of the MLS season, and despite missing six games since then — including trips to Nashville (797 miles), New York City (1,067 miles) and Washington, D.C. (900 miles) — he has still added over 14,000 miles to his 2024 tally in just three months.

The shortest trip Messi could potentially make would be 317 miles after their match away to the Columbus Crew (Oct. 2) to Canada for their match against Toronto FC. His longest Inter Miami trip of this year was that date with LA Galaxy, when he left Fort Lauderdale for Carson, California, on a 2,329-mile odyssey.

Then there are the games in which he didn’t feature. The 2,786-mile trip to Vancouver (and 2-1 win) would have been his longest trip of the year had the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner made it on the plane; he also didn’t feature in the 183-mile trip north to Orlando. If you want to see him in person, your best bet will be either a game in the eastern United States (away to NYCFC on Sep. 21) or at home at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale — where Inter Miami have nine more regular-season games — because of his international duties with Argentina.

If Messi suited up for every Miami game on the schedule, it would be an itinerary stretching to nearly 35,000 miles!


Playing for Argentina

While it will be an important year for Inter Miami as they look to win their first-ever MLS Cup — they’re leading the league after 16 matches and are odds-on favorites to win it all — Messi will also look to play in what could be one of his last tournaments for Argentina.

After nearly two decades of service for his country, Messi delivered Argentina’s first Copa América title since 1993 (beating Brazil 1-0 in 2021) and lifted his first FIFA World Cup (and his country’s first since 1986) in an 18-month span. This summer, he’ll try to make it back-to-back Copa América titles for Argentina, something they’ve done four times before.

Lucky for him, the Copa is being hosted in the U.S., and as defending champs with a base in south Florida, Argentina won’t have to trek too much during the group stage as they go to Atlanta (vs. Canada), East Rutherford, New Jersey (vs. Chile), and Miami (vs. Peru) — that’s 2,383 miles up and down the East Coast in three matches. Assuming they also win their group and make it all the way to the final, they would have a quarterfinal in Houston, a semifinal back in East Rutherford and then a final at the home of the Miami Dolphins — another 4,000-plus miles added to the tally.

Don’t expect things to cool off beyond that, either. Argentina go right into World Cup mode in September, with six qualifiers over three months during the business end of the MLS season. On the calendar: trips to Colombia, Venezuela and Paraguay. If Inter Miami qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, Messi will travel at least 24,449 miles between the two continents, but that could be extended if Tata Martino’s side makes a deep postseason run. The second leg of a potential MLS quarterfinal (Nov. 12) comes right before Argentina play a pair of games Nov. 14 and Nov. 19 in the World Cup cycle, with the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Nov. 25.


Bear in mind: This is one fairly typical season for Messi, though coming at the end of a distinguished 20-year career, it’s clear that there is more strategy and planning used when it comes to when, and how, he gets some much-needed rest. While he’s still performing at a high level — 833 goals and counting, with 10 goals and 10 assists in just 855 minutes for Miami so far in 2024 — you also look at the scale of how much bigger the travel times would’ve been.

Had Messi been able to travel to play in every single match this year for Inter Miami and Argentina, he would’ve clocked in 87,513 miles in total, or roughly 1,823 miles per trip — nearly three times around the world in 2024. With the soccer calendar expanding, new tournaments popping up for clubs and national teams and a global fan base desperate to see the world’s best, it’s entirely possible someone surpasses Messi for mileage in the not-too-distant future.