Bradley Wright-Phillips believes soccer in North America can become “unstoppable” following Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami and the 2026 World Cup.
It’s been ten years since the former Manchester City and Southampton striker swapped English football for Major League Soccer to join the New York Red Bulls.
Wright-Phillips left sixth on the MLS all-time goals list last year as he enjoyed a ringside seat to the sport’s growth in North America and says the best is yet to come.
After signing an eye-catching broadcast deal with Apple in 2022, further development will be fueled by Messi’s move to Miami and the World Cup, which will be held in the US, Canada and Mexico in three years’ time.
“My first reaction to Messi coming in was I just couldn’t believe it,” Wright-Phillips told PA.
“Honestly, even now, until I see him run out onto an MLS field, I can’t really understand what it’s going to be. It’s hard to even imagine. Even now it doesn’t seem real to me. It’s Messi!
“Unbelievable time. I feel like I retired at the perfect time just to be involved in what’s going on.
“Messi of course, Apple taking over and then you have the FIFA World Cup 26. What more could you ask for?”
Telling Wright-Phillips that the sport seems to be going from strength to strength in North America, he said: “Yes, it is. The potential and ceiling is higher than ever.
“If it’s done right, it can be unstoppable – the best league and country in the world for football, right? Wouldn’t you say that?”
MLS is definitely on an exciting trajectory and Messi’s arrival will fuel unprecedented interest in the competition.
“The league doesn’t just get the best player in the world,” says Wright-Phillips, who played for LAFC and Columbus Crew as well as the Red Bulls.
“If you just think of the average fan who doesn’t watch MLS, but now because Messi is here, they will watch MLS.
“Now they see Carles Gil, Hany Mukhtar, young players like Noel Buck – these are players we know are good.
But now you watch because you want to see Messi and the average fan will see the player or see the atmosphere in St Louis or Austin.
“That’s what’s exciting about it. It’s not just about seeing Messi play, it’s what Messi reveals globally.”
Aside from Messi’s macro impact, Miami will be desperate for the Argentine star to improve their fortunes at the DRV PNK Stadium.
Co-owned David Beckham’s side are languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference thanks to a difficult campaign that led to the recent sacking of Phil Neville.
Former Barcelona coach Tata Martino has stepped in, while Messi’s former Nou Camp teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are expected to join him in Florida.
“That tells me they don’t want Messi to come here and lose games,” added Wright-Phillips.
“The Inter Miami team is not doing very well this season, they suffered a lot of injuries, they changed their manager.
“He has to do a lot of things, but when you bring Busquets, Jordi Alba, you give yourself, you give Messi a chance to succeed.”