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When can I see Lionel Messi at Austin's Q2 Stadium?

 A person in a blue and white striped jersey with the number 10 on it runs arms outstretched away from a goal
Soccer.ru
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal against Nigeria at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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The news that Argentine soccer legend and FC Barcelona's all-time leading scorer Lionel Messi would be playing in Miami this year caused many casual fans to start paying attention to Major League Soccer. If you’re wondering when the legendary forward will step on the pitch in Austin, you might be in for a long wait thanks to the way MLS decides the schedule.

But, there's a slim chance it could happen this year.

The MLS Cup Final

There are two long-shot ways Messi would play a home match in Austin this year. The first is if Austin FC hosts the MLS Cup Final against Inter Miami. Neither Austin nor Miami have looked like potential finalists this year.

Miami is in last place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points behind the lowest-placed playoff team. Messi’s debut for Inter Miami is set for July 21, giving him 12 matches to turn Miami’s season around. Austin would also have to make the playoffs, which is looking more likely after last week's back-to-back wins. They are in the playoff position, in eighth place in the Western Conference.

Both teams would then need to survive three rounds of playoffs and make it to the final. Austin needs more points in the regular season than Miami to host the final. It’s possible, but a long shot.

A meeting in the upcoming Leagues Cup is more likely.

The Leagues Cup

The top soccer leagues in North America will take a break next month to allow their teams to compete against each other in the Leagues Cup. MLS teams will play teams from the Mexican Liga MX. Messi’s first match for Miami will be against Cruz Azul on July 21.

For the tournament to bring Messi to Austin, both clubs would have to win their group, then win their first round of the playoffs. That would bring Messi to Austin for the Round of 16, which is scheduled for Aug. 6-8. Miami could finish second in their group and still visit Austin, but both clubs would then need to win two knockout matches to meet in the quarterfinal.

There's always next year

Each MLS team plays 34 matches in the regular season. Most of those matches are against the other teams in their conference: Austin plays in the Western Conference; Miami is in the East.

Austin will play six matches against Eastern Conference teams, and only three of those games will be played at Q2 Stadium. The schedule will be announced ahead of the season.

If Miami doesn't visit Austin this year, it's up to the MLS schedule creators to determine if Messi will play in Austin next year. So fans might be in for a bit of a wait.

Juan Garcia is a producer at KUT. Got a tip? You can email him at jgarcia@kut.org.
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