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Lionel Messi: Coming to America

The list of things Lionel Messi has done is long and impressive. He was part of the Argentina team that won the 2005 under-20 World Cup. He won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. With Barcelona, he has won four UEFA Champions League titles and seven Spanish league championships. He's been named world player of the year five times. He has his own shoe line with Adidas, and he has achieved such popularity that a gold replica of his feared left foot sold for more than $5 million.

But two things are missing from his litany of accomplishments. He's never won a major competition as a member of Argentina's senior national side. (The Under-23 team won the Olympic gold medal.) And he's never played a competitive match in the United States.

One of those things will definitely change this month — but Messi hopes they both will.

For the first time in history, the Copa America — the South American championship — will be held outside of that continent. The games will take place in the U.S., where Messi has so far only appeared in friendly matches.

Not only is the tournament a chance for Messi to show a new audience what he can do, but it's also an opportunity for him and his teammates on La Albiceleste (that's Spanish for "the white and sky blue") to win their country's first major trophy since the 1993 Copa America.


Argentina's first game of the tournament will be against Chile on June 6 and will take place outside of San Francisco. It's significant because Chile beat Argentina in the final of last summer's Copa America. (The game ended up tied and went to penalty kicks. Messi converted his, but two of his teammates missed.)

The opening matchup is interesting for another reason. It could give Messi a chance to meet one of his heroes.


​Like just about everybody in the world who follows sports, Messi is a huge fan of Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Last year, Curry sent Messi a jersey. Messi returned the favor in April. "Seeing him play is magical," Messi said. "Everyone loves what he does: basketball fans, teammates, rivals. Our small size and playing styles even have some similarities.

"If you watch Curry play — or, just as revealing, warmup before the game — you notice his relationship with the ball. It's like his body and mind are always on the same wavelength with the ball. I try to have that connection with the ball in my sport, too."

Messi developed a close relationship with the soccer ball as a child. He had a ball with him at all times, and sometimes he even slept with one.

​As a result, Messi's control of the soccer ball is mind-blowing. He can pull down a pass in the tightest of spaces, and when he dribbles it seems as if the ball is glued to his foot. Defenders are often left helpless, which explains how he's averaged more than one goal per game for Barcelona over the past eight seasons in the Spanish league.

Maintaining that kind of scoring clip in the Copa America Centenario won't be easy. There are 16 teams competing, and eight of them reached the round of 16 at the World Cup in 2014.

Argentina also lost in the final of that tournament, dropping a 1--0 heartbreaker to Germany. Now, after two close calls, Messi feels his team is ready to break through — and do it on a new and exciting stage.

As Messi said recently, "If you Americans are looking forward to seeing me in person, trust me: The feeling is mutual."

Photo: Silvia Izquierdo/AP