The best soccer games have the ebb and flow of a great story, with thrilling comebacks and stunning feats of skill taking place at just the right time to inspire and excite viewers. Soccer’s relatively unique position as a truly global sport means that its scale is unlike any other type of competition, so a star player’s arrival in a new city can have plenty of narrative momentum on its own.
That momentum is at the heart of the new Apple TV+ series Messi Meets America, which focuses on — shockingly enough — Lionel Messi’s arrival at Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami C.F. over the summer. Wisely, the filmmakers immediately establish parallels between Messi’s arrival and the moment in 2007 when David Beckham made a similarly high-profile move to MLS, the Los Angeles Galaxy. (The story of that arrival is memorably told in Grant Wahl’s excellent book The Beckham Experiment.)
The fact that Beckham is one of the owners of Inter Miami puts him in an ideal place to comment on the ways that Messi’s arrival does and does not resemble his — and to explore the ways the league has changed in the 16 years that separate the two events. While Messi’s arrival is the primary story told in the series, it’s not the only one, and some of the most interesting moments on the show come when its scope expands to take in Messi’s teammates and the broader organization.
“We were embedded with the team when Messi arrived starting in July,” says Messi Meets America executive producer Scott Boggins. “At that point of their season, it was more than halfway complete. They were involved in going into the Leagues Cup and they also had the U.S. Open Cup and, of course, then the regular MLS season. As storytellers, we had an incredible opportunity to tell a story that is meaningful on so many different levels.”
As Boggins told InsideHook, beginning work on a documentary series in the midst of multiple competitions provided its own challenges. “We felt like we really wanted to see and be inside of the club and see that transformative moment, which is what it became and what currently is still happening,” he says. “Not only for the organization, but for the game itself in this country.”
That wasn’t the only challenge that faced Boggins and his collaborators. “For us, it was how do we make this story accessible to viewers?,” he says. “To both non-soccer fans and really hardcore soccer fans alike. And how do we make this story accessible and how do we give viewers a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for what is already being reported? We’re just following the story as it evolves — and this story continues to be written.”
Boggins’s own career has encompassed a number of sporting events, from college basketball to the Paralympic Games. He has worked on soccer-related projects before, including the 2012 miniseries Being: Liverpool. That opens the door to a few questions, including whether that earlier project had any impact or influence on this one.
“Every team is different, every organization is different,” Boggins says. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to be with teams and individual athletes in many different sports. And every single team, every single athlete, their process is different. What I’ve learned through the course of that experience is you really have to make no assumptions at all. Just because I got the opportunity to be with Liverpool during a stretch of time didn’t mean that was a blueprint suddenly for Miami.”
As Boggins explained, some of the other circumstances surrounding Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami played significant roles in the narrative. “This is a team that had gone through a monumental shift, and they had gone through a coaching transition as well. Everything had changed overnight,” he says, referring to the departure of coach Phil Neville for Tata Martino, who had previously coached Messi at Barcelona. “[The team] needed to reset themselves, and so we had to go into that very slowly and we had to understand this was going to take time.”
The fact that Messi’s arrival came when MLS’s season took a month-long pause for the Leagues Cup — a tournament that included every MLS and Liga MX team — made for a tremendous arc for the series’ first three episodes. The third episode builds to Inter Miami’s appearance in the Leagues Cup final against Nashville SC, which was an absolutely thrilling game of soccer — the kind of match that dedicated fans of the game can show their soccer-skeptical friends to make the case for their sport of choice.
Building a series around Lionel Messi does offer some more specific challenges as well. Some of the stars who have made their way to MLS over the years have larger-than-life personalities. Messi is a more modest presence off the pitch — pizza recommendations aside — a contrast to the often-stunning feats he accomplishes during the course of a game. Alternately: it’s nearly impossible to imagine Messi taking out a full-page ad in the local newspaper saying, “You’re welcome,” the way that Zlatan Ibrahimovic did when he signed with the Galaxy.
While Messi is a presence in interviews, he isn’t the only Inter Miami player to do so. And a few of his teammates — including USMNT veteran DeAndre Yedlin and newcomer Benjamin Cremaschi — make charismatic appearances at various moments on the series. Boggins pointed out that the documentary crew took a wide-ranging approach to who they spoke with. “We were able to interview folks [like] the owner of FC Dallas, you know, Mr. [Clark] Hunt,” he says. “We were able to interview local reporters in Miami, local voices in Miami who have been on the beat forever.” It’s also worth noting that Inter Miami’s visits to Dallas and Philadelphia feature memorable trips to restaurants in those cities and enticing footage of food being prepared.
In keeping with the idea of making the series accessible to die-hard supporters and newcomers alike, some of the show’s most interesting moments comes in an interview with Inter Miami’s equipment manager, who recounts what it takes to prepare for an away game. “It’s the old adage that it takes a village, and it really does,” Boggins says. “On Apple TV+, you’re going to see more folks within the organization. You’re going to see the head groundskeeper in later episodes — and his staff. Could you imagine the work they have to do when there’s so much rain this summer? We were thinking, we need to tell the story because I’m from the Northeast, and I’ve never seen it rain as hard and as often as in South Florida.”
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As Boggins tells it, that segment was inspired by what he and his colleagues observed from their time embedded with the team. “I certainly had seen the images before, but I had never experienced anything quite like this before,” he says. “Every time we’d go out, the fields would be immaculate — the training pitches, the stadium field. We thought, this is an amazing story in itself.”
Lionel Messi is certainly the marquee draw when it comes to Messi Meets America, but the documentary is at its most interesting when it tells the stories of the people affected by him — be it his teammates or an eatery experiencing an influx of new business when Inter Miami comes to town. It makes for a prismatic view of the beautiful game.