MIAMI – When Lionel Messi finally added the title of “World Cup champion” to his resume last December, it seemed like he had no expectations left to live up to. There are no boxes left to check. Nothing more to achieve after almost two decades in the most elite football at all levels.

“He doesn’t carry that big backpack anymore,” former Argentine coach Tata Martino said on Thursday, referring symbolically to the burden Messi felt until he managed to secure soccer’s top international prize. “He’s in a good moment.”

Yet as Messi prepares to begin the last, and possibly last, chapter of his playing days, some pressure and expectation lingers. When he agreed to join Inter Miami and delve into what is, to him at least, the relative unknown of Major League Soccer, he came with an unspoken promise. Raise American football to a new level.

People want to see it, they are interested in it, and the games in MLS and the Leagues Cup tournament (with teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX) that feature it take on new meaning. The best player of his generation is here and the goal has changed.

But the best way for Messi to be an American soccer evangelist is relatively simple: focus on soccer. Go light on evangelism.

Soccer in the United States has grown enough that it doesn’t require the 36-year-old to play the full celebrity athlete card, appearing on talk shows, promotional appearances and endless media interviews.

He needs Messi to play, shine and win.

What impact can Lionel Messi have with Inter Miami, MLS?

What impact can Lionel Messi have with Inter Miami, MLS?

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse discuss whether they think Lionel Messi should be expected to receive different treatment in Miami.

“We have a plan,” added Martino, who was named Inter Miami’s new coach on June 28. “The plan will work better if we have good results.”

That is an understatement. American football is beyond gimmicks. The early days of MLS in the late 1990s were important, but the league arguably tried too hard to appease what they thought the American audience wanted.

There were artificial shootouts from a 35-yard line to settle the ties. Some uniforms could be politely described as flashy. Many of the imports that arrived were definitely past their prime.

When American football grew, its audience also grew. What you see now in MLS is more in line with what you might expect in a European or South American tournament. Salaries have increased, as have crowds.

That being said, such an evolution brings different realities. Even when David Beckham arrived 15 years ago, there was a huge hype element to his job description. Not so with Messi.

On Thursday, a press conference was held prior to Messi’s expected debut against Cruz Azul in the League Cup (Friday, 7:00 p.m.). Martino spoke alongside fellow new signing Sergio Busquets, the Spanish international who played with Messi at Barcelona.

Messi meeting: Tata Martino and Sergio Busquets travel to Miami

Messi meeting: Tata Martino and Sergio Busquets travel to Miami

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse react to the appointment of Tata Martin as head coach of Inter Miami, as he will meet Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets.

Messi was not present. Get used to it. He’s not going to say much before games, after games or between games.

But what might have been a bit annoying to the assembled reporters actually matters little in the grand scheme of things.

Messi isn’t much of a fan of talking to the press to begin with, and the simple fact is that there’s nothing he can say that will outweigh the impact of a brilliant goal, an increase in Inter Miami’s fortunes and perhaps an MLS Cup title in the next two years. It is with his feet and his tricks, not his mouth and his personality, that Messi can further boost the profile of the league he joined. It will be with his performances.

Competitiveness is at the center of everything the 36-year-old does. He has won everything football has to offer, and it’s hard to think he won’t want to win more.

The Leagues Cup is a chance for Inter Miami to breathe some life into what has been a demoralizing season, with the team mired in the bottom half of the MLS Eastern Conference. Cruz Azul, which is going through its own struggles in Liga MX, is aware that the main reason people will pay attention to Friday’s game is to see Messi, not them.

However, Cruz Azul coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti feels the spirit of Messi and gave his own prediction of what comes next.

“He loves soccer,” Ferretti told reporters. “Messi loves it. If he was already tired of it, he wouldn’t have come here. He came here to promote the sport, yes. But he can’t come here and ruin all the experiences he’s had before. He’s here because he still has a passion for football.”

And the way in which this passion for Messi is manifested is not by describing it, but by doing it.

All American sports have an element of spectacle, but Messi is a pure sports animal. If he’s going to be the kind of game changer many expect, he’s going to dominate the games, he won’t talk about them.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @mrogersfox and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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