Lionel Messi was among three finalists named on Thursday for Major League Soccer’s Newcomer of the Year award despite the Argentine star playing only six league matches for Inter Miami.
The 36-year-old striker, who inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar, powered Miami to the Leagues Cup title in a tournament with MLS and Mexican league sides in August.
Messi only played his first MLS match for Miami on August 26 as a second-half substitute and scored a goal in Inter’s 2-0 win at New York Red Bulls to snap an 11-match winless streak.
But nagged by a late-season leg injury, Messi was unable to lift Miami from the league cellar into the MLS playoffs.
Since signing with Inter Miami in July, Messi has been a moneyspinner for MLS from jersey sales and his role in boosting sales of MLS season pass viewing subscriptions as well as ticket sales wherever Miami played.
Messi’s rivals for the newcomer award, defined as anyone with pro experience who made an MLS debut this year, are Greek forward Giorgos Giakoumakis of Atlanta United and German midfielder Eduard Lowen of St. Louis City.
Messi had also been among the players nominated for the MLS Most Valuable Player award but was not among the three finalists in that category.
That trio included MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga, a French-born Gabon international for Los Angeles FC, Argentine midfielder Luciano Acosta of regular-season wins leader FC Cincinnati and another Argentine standout, Atlanta’s Thiago Almada.