Lionel Messi made a storybook introduction to life at Inter Miami, scoring the winning goal with a stoppage-time free kick after coming off the substitutes' bench at a sold-out DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday.
On the final play of the game, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner stepped up to the ball 25 yards out and found the top corner with his famed left foot to give Miami a 2-1 win over Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup.
Miami had long targeted Friday's game for Messi to make his debut for the MLS side following his blockbuster arrival on a free transfer. He signed a 2½-year contract with Inter Miami that will pay him between $50 million and $60 million annually.
However, manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino had cautioned in the buildup to the match that both Messi and fellow new signing and former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets might not be fit enough to play from the start after only recently returning from vacation following the end of the European club season last month.
Messi and Busquets entered Friday's game together in the 54th minute to a rapturous ovation from the estimated crowd of 21,000.
Messi was introduced to his new home fans on Sunday and trained for the first time as a member of the club Tuesday. On Friday, he arrived with the team about two hours before game time, dressed in the team colors with a pink T-shirt and black shorts. He stopped for a few photos and handshakes as he entered the tunnel leading to the locker room.
He got a hug and shared a few words with LeBron James -- another athlete who knows a thing or two about making a highly celebrated move to Miami, after he joined the Heat in 2010 and won his first two NBA titles in a four-year stay -- on his way to the bench. Messi took his seat and watched his new team start his new era.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham was on the field about three hours before kickoff, taking a video with his phone as he scanned the empty seats. Messi jerseys were stocked at the team store inside the stadium, and entrepreneurs were selling unofficial Messi jerseys on the road leading to the venue.
It was a gathering of GOATs at Messi's debut match: James and Serena Williams were there - like Messi in soccer, they're in the conversation of "greatest of all time" when it comes to the NBA and tennis. Music legends Gloria and Emilio Estefan were there, as was Kim Kardashian, saying one of her sons had a particular reason why he had to attend.
"He's so excited to see Messi," Kardashian said.
Miami currently has the worst record in MLS, but the newly redesigned Leagues Cup, featuring every MLS and Liga MX team, offers a chance for Messi & Co. to win immediate silverware and claim one of three places available in next season's Concacaf Champions League.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.