Benjamin Cremaschi, approximately age 9, on a soccer field in Key Biscayne, Fla. Cremaschi is now a midfielder for Inter Miami, where he is playing with Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi (Cremaschi family via KBI)
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It’s been quite a week for Key Biscayne’s Benjamin Cremaschi. And it was a week the 18-year-old thought would never come. 

Cremaschsi — who often goes by the name “Benja” — scored his first Major League Soccer goal on Saturday for Inter Miami. Then on Wednesday, he met his idol, Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi in the locker room.

Cremaschi immediately called his folks in Mendoza, Argentina to tell them how he and Messi were now teammates. 

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“Messi was there with his three kids and he had this moment with Messi that was very emotional,” said his father Pablo Cremaschi, a former professional l rugby player.

Cremaschi spoke to the Independent after practice on Wednesday about what Key Biscayne means to him.

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“Key Biscayne is a big part of my life and who I am,” he said. “Everyone there – my family, friends – they just helped me go through this process.”

Cremaschi played both rugby and soccer on the island and attended MAST Academy through the 10th grade. 

Inter Miami midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi (30) and D.C. United defender Donovan Pines (23) compete for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“I always dreamed of being a professional player, I didn’t know where or how,” he said. “But honestly when I was 15 or 16 I thought it was over. I was looking toward the college pathway.”

By then Cremaschi joined the U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy in Weston, playing on squads with other teens his age. He finished his junior and senior year of high school through online courses.

“That was a difficult time for us,” his father said. “We drove him from Key Biscayne to Weston there everyday for practice in the middle of rush hour.”

The midfielder thrived at Weston FC, taking the U-16 team to the 2021 MLS NEXT Cup title in 2021 and claiming the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. This was followed by time on Youth National teams and another title.

Inter Miami also took him under its wing, bringing Cremaschi up through its Miami CF Academy. The club signed him last December to a three-year contract after a two-week trial.

Cremaschi also gave credit to interim Inter Miami coach Javi Morales, who coached him in the Inter Miami’s youth league. 

“He helped me a lot, helped me grow as a player and as a person too,” Cremaschi said. 

He scored his first goal in Morales’ last game as head coach, a right-footer in the 59th minute off a pass from Robert Taylor in a 2-2 match with D.C. United. He was swarmed by teammates after the goal.

“This is the first one hopefully of many, but the first one is the one that I’ll remember my whole life,” he said.

His veteran teammates said they were impressed with Cremaschi and other young players, like 19-year-old defender Noah Allen of Pembroke Pines who also scored in the game.

“It’s hard because they’re playing against grown men,” goalkeeper Drake Callender said. “For them to step up and perform well and do well in games is really, really good for us.”

Forward Josef Martinez added “I’m very happy for the young guys because I know there’s a lot of pressure for them.”

Pablo Cremaschi said that his son never forgets that to play with these veterans is an honor at his age.

“He was very humble to be in the position where he is now with the grown-up players,” the father said. “He is very respectful of the players. He is always listening to them.”

After practicing in the suffocating heat these days, Cremaschi heads back home to Key Biscayne. He sometimes commutes with forward Leonardo Campana who the team says also lives on the island.

Cremaschi’s mother, Jimena, said Key Biscayne kids come by the house looking for her son all the time. He signs shirts and other sports gear for the kids and takes photos with them.

Sister Juana Cremaschi said that her brother shows that through hard work and determination that young soccer players on the island can make it to the professional ranks 

“It gives little kids hope that they can make it out of the Key,” she said.

This Sunday, Inter Miami will unveil its new stadium and practice facility in Fort Lauderdale. Messi will then join the team.

“It’s just pure excitement playing with one of the best players in the world,” Cremaschi said.

His family is over the moon.

“I think nobody believes this,” Pablo Cremaschi said. “For us, the Argentinian people, Messi is the most important player of all time and to have our kid playing with Messi is like a dream come true.”

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.