TIM HOWARD: Soccer in the US has just five years to cash in on Lionel Messi and Inter Miami’s globetrotters… MLS must loosen its purse strings NOW to allow more super clubs to grow

In sports, I like the hunters versus the hunted. The dynasties. The Big Six in the Premier League – there is something special about it.

People will argue that parity is fun because – year to year – you don’t know what you’re going to get. But ultimately we like villains and heroes. The haves and the have nots.

Is there a way to bring it to Major League Soccer? Having two, three or four Super Teams all playing at the same time? Marquee teams, with top players, who can entice former teammates to come over. Inter Miami has done it with Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and now Luis Suarez. I think that’s the way.

I started playing Major League Soccer in 1998 and back then it would have been hard to imagine the scenes a few weeks back in El Salvador, where the Miami bus was mobbed at the start of its month-long world tour.

When David Beckham came over in 2007, all eyes were on LA Galaxy – and they did travel. But it’s big. During the preseason, Miami will rack up 23,000 miles with more friendlies in Saudi Arabia, Japan and Hong Kong.

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will travel 23,000 miles for matches in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will travel 23,000 miles for matches in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere

Messi brought former teammates Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets to Florida

Messi brought former teammates Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets to Florida

DailyMail.com sports columnist Tim Howard wants MLS to help clubs become global brands

DailyMail.com sports columnist Tim Howard wants MLS to help clubs become global brands

MLS SALARY RULES: A BRIEF EXPLANATION

MLS clubs are bound by a complex matrix of rules around player salaries.

Here is a brief summary:

A team’s ‘active roster’ consists of no more than 30 players. Up to 20 of these count against a salary budget of $5.47 million for 2024, with no single player allowed to use up more than $683,750.

However, clubs can pay players more using other levers, including a league-wide allocation pool ($2.58 million per club).

The salaries of players who take up the last 10 slots on their roster do not count towards the cap. Some of these must be homemade.

Each club can also have up to three ‘designated players’ – such as Lionel Messi – who are not bound by the spending rules.

Yes, it was an awful sight last Monday, when Messi and Co. faced FC Dallas in front of almost empty stands. There is no sidestepping it. It highlights how much further we still have to go.

But Miami can drag the rest of MLS up – the league will thrive because of Messi and the commercial success and the brand. While you have it, just drill it from each side.

But Messi is 36 – if he goes in a few years, and Busquets, Alba and Suarez go with him, what next? We must strike while the iron is hot. We have Messi, then the 2026 World Cup, then the relegation. We are talking about a period of five years when you can really capitalize.

You’re going to have the best people in the world, the biggest television rights, the biggest sponsors, the best players – all in America. Then, afterwards, an opportunity to get the three or four best players in the world. That should be the next goal. And that means loosening the salary cap.

For the 2024 season, the budget for MLS clubs is $5.47 million, with the average player earning no more than $683,750 per year. Cristiano Ronaldo almost makes it in a DAY in Saudi Arabia. $220 million year…that’s crazy money. And in England, Premier League champions Manchester City spent more than $500 million on players’ wages last season.

If I’m an owner of an MLS team, and I’m in it for half a billion dollars, I should be able to spend money to create a superpower. Chicago, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle – there are big cities with everything you need.

It was a terrible sight as Messi and Co faced FC Dallas in front of near-empty stands

It was a terrible sight as Messi and Co faced FC Dallas in front of near-empty stands

Dallas' Cotton Bowl was largely empty for Inter Miami's 1-0 loss in the preseason friendly

Dallas’ Cotton Bowl was largely empty for Inter Miami’s 1-0 loss in the preseason friendly

When I first started playing, there were mega financial restrictions. They had to protect the structure of the league or they would fail. I totally get it.

But now the United States is in a battle with Saudi Arabia to be the next big destination outside of Europe. The Saudi Pro League has done some very good things – big names have passed and many are thriving. If MLS teams are going to compete, you have to allow them to sign bigger and better players. More money, more eyes.

World-renowned teams are built on the backs of individuals. The face may change every five years, but you are still drawn to players. Miami is building it now. The question is: can you get more of those players? If you can, you start building that brand.

Take Barcelona. If someone leaves, you’re not going to say, ‘I’m not watching them anymore.’ Because you already know they’re going to bring in the next one. This is the only way to be recognized worldwide. Can Miami do it when Messi leaves? Because it won’t be long before he does. Can they already have a sustainable model where they know who they are looking for? Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, someone in that realm – the next best thing.

MLS needs to find a way to allow its teams to become global powerhouses. And they must do it now.

Messi, now 36, is preparing for his first full season of Major League Soccer with Inter Miami

Messi gets his eighth Ballon d'Or with Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham in Paris

Messi gets his eighth Ballon d’Or with Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham in Paris

Don’t worry, Messi and Miami won’t suffer from jet lag

I’d be shocked if Inter Miami wasn’t near the top of MLS this year.

There are fears that the hangover from all these trips and all these games will affect Messi and Co. I think it’s a convenient excuse.

I don’t buy it because pre-season is for building fitness and sports science is the be-all and end-all of these clubs. They monitor every single heartbeat of these players.

Pre-season is obviously difficult. It’s taxing on your body, you’re away from your family. It drains. While in the Premier League I went to the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. One year we were supposed to go to Australia, but the promoter never paid the money. So we didn’t go and the players were delighted not to be moving across the world.

Managers are no different – they hate the commercial demands of touring, even if they appreciate the financial benefit these trips bring their club.

But spending more time together – a coffee in the hotel lobby, playing a few cards – is priceless. Trust has never been built on the field. It is always built from that. So the more time you spend together, the more trust you build, the more you have each other’s backs and the more late goals you score.

Tata Martino's Inter Miami will enter the 2024 MLS season as one of the favorites to triumph

Tata Martino’s Inter Miami will enter the 2024 MLS season as one of the favorites to triumph

Why I support Fifa’s World Cup selections

I was surprised to read that the 2026 World Cup final is likely to be held in Dallas. Like everyone, I assumed it was going to be in New York or Los Angeles – those are the marquee cities and that’s where the marquee games have always been.

But I played in Cowboys Stadium. It’s absolutely brilliant and they do it big in Dallas. They do it big in Texas. So the world will show up, America will show up, Texas will show up. This is a good choice.

There were also complaints about Fifa’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams. It’s amazing to see minnows qualify, but some great footballing nations are missing from every World Cup.

You can say: it’s the breaks. But when Italy or Holland or Chile miss out – I want to see them there. I like the expansion because I’m in favor of having as many of the best teams at a World Cup as possible.

The AT&T Stadium in Texas will host the 2026 World Cup Finals ahead of MetLife Stadium.

The AT&T Stadium in Texas will host the 2026 World Cup Finals ahead of MetLife Stadium.

It would be catastrophic for Liverpool’s communities if Everton were to go down

Everton supporters are an extremely proud bunch and the fact that my former side have never been relegated from the Premier League is something they hang their hat on.

Aston Villa, Newcastle and Leeds all went down, but this would be the biggest relegation in history: Everton are one of the few founding clubs never to be relegated from the Premier League. They haven’t been outside the top flight since the 1950s.

Ending that streak is obviously not something Evertonians want to think about – even if they do face a second potential points deduction. Sean Dyche and his players have already recovered once after being given 10 points for breaching financial rules. Another 10 would surely prove fatal.

Everton's work in the areas around Goodison Park is second to none in the Premier League

Everton’s work in the areas around Goodison Park is second to none in the Premier League

Relegation will have an impact on the people who work there. This will have an impact on the outreach you can do in the community – and Everton’s community program is second to none in the Premier League. It is such a caring club. Every manager I had would say, ‘This is important. You are going to do the job that Everton wants in the Community.’

But with relegation, budgets are cut – not cut. People lose jobs. It affects the entire ecosystem of the community – there is no doubt. We understand the financial windfall of the Premier League and how it sustains these communities.

If Everton go down it will be catastrophic.