Even before Inter Miami denied claims that the club would play a pair of friendlies in Saudi Arabia in the winter, Tuesday's announcement that the MLS side would face Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal seemed unlikely from the start.
Despite a release from Riyadh Season which made the rounds on social media claiming that Miami would be in the gulf nation for a series of games billed as "The Last Dance," teasing that it could be the final time Miami's Lionel Messi would face Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Hilal's Neymar. The announcement claimed that the friendlies would take place during Riyadh Season, Saudi Arabia's annual state-funded sports and entertainment festival.
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Riyadh Season's slate
Riyadh Season kicked off in October and is expected to run until March 2024, and is already due to host several soccer matches this winter. The Turkish Super Cup between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce will be played at KSU Stadium on Dec. 30, while the four-team versions of Spain and Italy's super cups will take place at the same venue from Jan. 10 to 14 and Jan. 21 to 25, respectively.
The traditionally lengthy run of Riyadh Season suggests that there would be plenty of openings on the calendar for this series of games. The fact that Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal do not have matches scheduled between Dec. 30 and Feb. 15, 2024 also implies the same, but there may not actually be a scheduled opening.
Al-Nassr will spend the rest of 2023 finishing out their remaining fixtures in domestic and international competition, including the Club World Cup. The yearly FIFA competition will be hosted in Saudi Arabia this year and runs from Dec. 12 to 22. Al-Hilal will do the same, minus a trip to the Club World Cup.
As for Miami, they are in the midst of their offseason and players are expected to report to preseason training some time in January. The South Florida side played their first preseason friendly in 2023 on Jan. 21 and could open their 2024 schedule around the same time.
That is only 22 days before Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal could resume play. The pair are expected to qualify for the AFC Champions League round of 16, which begins on Feb. 12. The MLS season would likely kick off a few weeks later -- the 2022 and 2023 seasons began in the final weekend of February. Miami will also participate in the Concacaf Champions Cup round of 16, which is scheduled to start on March 5.
In theory, that 22 day stretch is the likeliest window of time for the teams to play each other but it's also possible Riyadh Season might be unable to accommodate them. Their venue of choice, KSU Stadium, is not free until after the Super Coppa Italia wraps up on Jan. 25 and cuts that window of time down to 18 days. It is also possible that Miami would be uninterested in logging 7,000-plus travel miles so soon before their season begins, especially with travel around North America in MLS and Champions Cup play on the horizon.
Marketing materials around Neymar specifically also raised doubt since the player tore his ACL and meniscus just a month ago and would likely miss "The Last Dance."
Miami is intent on becoming a "global brand," as they wrote their Tuesday statement and nearly began that mission earlier this month with a now-canceled China tour. Miami also said "look forward to showcasing our players on Inter Miami CF's first international tour which will be announced in the coming weeks," but it does not appear that this trip to Saudi Arabia will be the way they make their overseas debut.