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Miami's Argentinian community celebrates soccer star Lionel Messi moving to the city

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The biggest buzz in Miami this week was not the news of the indictment of former President Trump or that the Miami Heat is trying to stay alive in the NBA finals. No. It is word that soccer legend Lionel Messi will play for MLS Club Inter Miami, even if details of the deal are not yet known. Veronica Zaragovia of member station WLRN in Miami spoke to fans in the city's Argentine community. They are anxiously awaiting Messi's arrival.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: The Pele Soccer shop on Miami Beach sells jerseys from teams all over the world. Store manager Hudson Michel grabs a stack of pink ones, certain that these will become bestsellers. That's because these are Inter Miami FC jerseys. Michel peels off the plastic over black letters spelling Messi's name. He uses a heat press machine to add it on the back.

HUDSON MICHEL: So business is going to be booming. Traffic is definitely - it's going to be crazy. But hey; he's one of the best player ever. He's the GOAT.

ZARAGOVIA: The GOAT, or greatest of all time, confirmed the rumor in an interview with the Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIONEL MESSI: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: "I made the decision. I'm going to Miami," Messi said. On this same street of the soccer store, Armando Gomez scrolls through dozens of WhatsApp messages that keep his phone buzzing.

ARMANDO GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: "My friends are commenting that Messi wanted the heat of Miami, the warmth of the people, the Latinos," Gomez says. And he's from Venezuela, but a lot of Latinos around here hail from Argentina, just like Messi. One of them, Florencia Friedlander (ph), works as a server at a nearby Argentine cafe in South Beach.

FLORENCIA FRIEDLANDER: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: "People will pack the stadium," she says, "and Argentinians will line up for days because that's what we do." After all, South Florida has one of the largest Argentinean communities in the U.S.

FRIEDLANDER: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: "Americans are not so used to showing emotions like we do. We're passionate," she says. "And if you add Messi to the mix, the passion boils over." Ethan Reta, whose father is from Argentina, plays in a Miami Beach soccer club.

ETHAN RETA: Everywhere I went - did you hear about Messi? Do you hear about Messi? It's crazy. People can't get enough of it. I'm really excited to be able to watch the greatest player of all time play, like, in my own city. It's crazy.

ZARAGOVIA: Inter Miami could really use the kind of excitement generated by the man who won the last World Cup. The team currently sits at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings. But already, ticket prices are soaring for soccer matches later this summer, when Messi might be playing. For NPR News, I'm Veronica Zaragovia in Miami Beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADANNA DURU SONG, "POP!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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