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Lionel Messi set to make MLS return for Inter Miami without a referee

Lionel Messi set to make MLS return for Inter Miami without a referee

Messi's MLS adventure is set for another twist.

Lionel Messi will make his Major League Soccer return on Wednesday evening, but he might have to do so without one of the league's usual referees.

The 2024 MLS season will kick-off on Wednesday evening when Inter Miami host Real Salt Lake at the DRV PNK Stadium in Florida.

Messi was unable to guide Miami into the post-season play-offs last season, so this time round he will be desperate to win a first MLS Cup for David Beckham's franchise.

However, Miami's first game of the new campaign might look a little different.

That's because, as reported by CBS, MLS will have to draft in emergency referees due to the usual officials going on strike.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) voted against the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement, meaning the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) will block PRSA members from officiating league matches.

The officials' demands include increased pay, first or business-class travel for MLS Cup play-offs and improvements in treatment including physiotherapy.

The previous referees' deal expired on February 12, just nine days before the first game of the new season.

Peter Manikowski, president and lead negotiator for PSRA, said: "We live for this game, giving it 100 per cent of our dedication, experience, fitness and ability.

"The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time.

Messi now plays for Inter Miami in the MLS (Getty)
Messi now plays for Inter Miami in the MLS (Getty)

"Our members are asking not only for fair compensation at a time when the league is reporting record growth, but also for the ability to take care of themselves on the road and at home to continue officiating at the highest level that this sport demands."

A similar situation occurred in 2014 when replacement referees were drafted in at short notice.

There are concerns that the replacements - who MLS and the PRO say will be "experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials" - won't have the fitness levels of elite referees or the understanding of new rules.

Starting this season there will be a ten-second limit for substitutes to leave the field, with replacements prevented from coming on for 60 seconds if there is a delay.

Messi and Luis Suarez probably didn't expect their competitive reunion to be played without an elite-level referee.

Featured Image Credit: Getty

Topics: MLS, Inter Miami, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Luis Suarez