The Rondo: Miami without Lionel Messi, TST stars and who should win the Ballon d’Or?

Messi Hayes Bellingham split

Reality is soon to set in for Inter Miami. Lionel Messi is temporarily stepping away from the squad, and will be unavailable for up to five weeks as the Argentine chases Copa America glory – with the hopes of winning his third international honor on the bounce. The Herons are on top of MLS’s Eastern Conference, but could see their lead slip without their star man.

But that’s not the only big story in the soccer world this week. TST is well underway, legends of the US global game and celebrities colliding to face off in pickup-style seven-a-side under the North Carolina sun. The USWNT showed exactly how bright the future might be, as they kicked off the highly anticipated Emma Hayes era with a bang, battering South Korea twice in less than a week. And on the global stage, the Ballon d’Or race might is heating up.

Our GOAL US editorial staff break down those storylines and more in the latest edition of… The Rondo.
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Sergio Aguero TST 2024

Which celebrity or legendary player is must-see at TST?

Tom Hindle: It’s got to be Sergio Aguero. Sure, you’ve got your standard slew of MLS legends, celebs and former players in attendance at the 2024 edition of The Soccer Tournament in Cary, N.C. – and there’s no denying it is a spectacle. But these kinds of “soccer legends” events are most compelling when the big names are in attendance.

Aguero is one of the more underrated strikers in Premier League history, despite his immaculate goal-scoring record. And after seeing his career ended harshly by heart problems, it will be interesting to see just how much better than everyone he still is at this sport.

Ryan Tolmich: If you watched the Sebastian Giovinco era of MLS, you already know.

The Atomic Ant was an absolute menace in Toronto, smashing league records while turning TFC into a juggernaut. Technically, Giovinco is unmatched by most of this competition, which means he may just dribble his way to a highlight-reel goal.

We learned last season that this 7v7 tournament favors indoor style, but Giovinco is one of the former top-level stars best equipped for this type of game.

Jacob Schneider: Sergio Aguero. The Argentina and Man City legend was truly one of a kind, and witnessing him come out of retirement to play in the USA is a sight to see. Genuinely thrilled he’s playing, but also buzzing to just be able to watch him in competitive fashion one more time.

Emma Hayes USWNT 2024

What was the top takeaway from the USWNT’s dual drubbings of South Korea?

TH: That Emma Hayes has a really GOOD problem on her hands: she will have to cut some big names and big talents as she finalizes the 2024 Olympics squad. The USWNT were excellent over this break, strolling to two wins. A mixture of old heads and new faces turned in promising performances, with veteran Crystal Dunn recapturing her best and 16-year-old Lily Yohannes bursting onto the scene with a terrific cameo in the second friendly.

Piece it all together, and some stars might not being going to Paris. Alex Morgan’s spot might even be in jeopardy. That’s a hard thing to confront, but it’s indicative of a strong squad.

RT: The biggest lesson from these friendlies? The kids are alright. This was Yohannes’ turn to steal the show in her debut. What a moment it was for the teenager, who announced her arrival in style with a goal.

It’s not just Yohannes, though. We know how good Jaedyn Shaw is. Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman continue to grow from young stars to leaders. Jenna Nighswonger is making that left-back spot her own every time she steps on the field. There’s a young core emerging, not just for this summer but for the next few. Emma Hayes, you have a lot to work with.

JS: Mallory Swanson and Smith are MUST-start players. That means two of three attackers are locked in. Non-negotiable. That, and it appears Shaw might be a bench option this summer – and that’s perfectly OK. The importance of Smith and Swanson cannot go unnoticed. They are crucial now and will be for the next few years.Lionel-Messi

How much will Inter Miami struggle while Messi is at Copa?

TH: A lot. It is a good thing that Tata Martino’s side found form before Copa America, because they are basically nothing without their main man. Yes, they have still won a few games when Messi has been either injured or rested, but you only have to look at their struggles towards the end of last season to see that they are nowhere near their best in the MLS when he’s not around.

Another concern could also be the absence of Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan seems to have played himself back into contention for Marcelo Bielsa and the Copa America squad there. Missing their best overall player and his deadly attacking running mate might send Miami into a nosedive for the next month. They will have to hope that Argentina suffers an unlikely early exit from the tournament.

RT: They’ll struggle, but that’s fine. They simply need to stay afloat, which this team is more than capable of doing. If they can snag a few points while Messi is gone, Miami will be just fine.

Players such as Leo Campana and Robert Taylor will have to step up, which they certainly can. Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets will still be involved, too, giving Miami two stars to lead the charge.

They won’t keep their pace without Messi, but they don’t need to. The MLS season is a marathon, not a sprint, and Miami can survive these few miles without Messi pulling the club along.

JS: Miami are already hitting a rough patch, and no Messi and no Suarez will be brutal. Their defense is shambolic and some of their offseason recruitments haven’t paid off.

They need a new CB this summer, and they need Campana to step up massively in the coming weeks. If they want the supporters’ shield, the backups will have to do their bit.

ViniciusGetty Images

Who should win the Ballon d’Or: Vini Jr. or Jude Bellingham?

TH: Obligatory thesis: The Ballon d’Or is a silly award that really doesn’t matter. It is, in fact, little more than a Twitter measuring stick for people to argue about online. End of rant.

But, if you do subscribe to the admittedly thin theory that individual awards matter in a team game, then Vinicius just about edges it – for now. Bellingham has been brilliant for Madrid – equal parts dominant box-to-box midfielder and prolific goal-scorer. But his production – goals, assists, highlight-worthy moments – has slowed down of late, which will certainly hurt his chances.

Vinicius, meanwhile, scored twice in the Champions League semifinal, once in the final, and buried three in El Clasico in January. The summer tournaments will probably be the deciding factor. If England do the thing and win Euro 2024, then Bellingham will likely take it home. If Brazil defy the odds and win Copa America, then it’ll be Vinicius’ to lose.

RT: TBD! So much depends on this summer, doesn’t it? International tournaments have a massive impact on who wins these awards and, in a Euro and Copa America year, you can’t hand this out in June.

What if Florian Wirtz carries Germany to victory after Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga run? What if Phil Foden leads England to glory while winning the Golden Boot? What if Toni Kroos provides a feel-good ending to his career this summer?

If voting ended today, it’s probably Vini, but let’s see how the summer shakes out before handing out awards.

JS: It comes down to the national team competition this summer. If Brazil win Copa America, Vini Jr. gets the award. if England win the Euros, it goes to Bellingham.

If both happen to win or lose, the card goes to the Brazilian. What an outrageous player. He has been fantastic for Madrid and he is deservedly the front-runner.Jesse Marsch 2022/23

Did the USMNT make the wrong decision in not hiring Jesse Marsch?

TH: Yes. Before taking the top role for Canada, Marsch made it clear through a series of interviews and punditry appearances that he was after the US job, and seemed to be something of a natural successor to Gregg Berhalter – who might just have taken this team as far as it can go under his tutelage.

The US is in a bit of a worrisome spot. They are probably slightly below the tier of job that world-class managers would want to take, but can afford to hold out for the right coach with a proven winning record. Marsch may have ultimately failed at Leeds, but his experience in the national setup, Red Bull education, and charisma would have made him an ideal fit for this USMNT side.

Give such an exciting, geggenpressing manager a team that features an array of fun attacking talent, and the USMNT would at least be very watchable for the next World Cup cycle.

He seemed to be the right coach at the right time. US soccer missed a trick.

RT: It doesn’t seem like it. The players clearly backed Berhalter and this summer will determine whether they’re wrong or right. But even if Berhalter does fall short, that doesn’t necessarily mean Marsch is the guy.

International management is a very different beast, and it remains to be seen how Marsch adapts his pressing style. Let’s see how he does with Canada before deciding on his status as an quality international manager.

JS: Absolutely not. Jesse is a great coach, but the players wanted Berhalter – and sometimes what they say matters more than anyone else. Hearing Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic ask for Berhalter back, it means a lot in the grand scheme. Best of luck at Canada, Jesse, but the U.S. are perfectly OK without him.

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