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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Not Every MLS Team Gets to Strike Gold With a Messi Visit

  • The Inter Miami star won’t travel to Saturday’s match in Vancouver.
  • Lionel Messi has already missed six MLS games this season.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Lionel Messi has propelled Major League Soccer to unprecedented heights since joining Inter Miami last summer. But while he may be seen as a superhero to many—and the biggest box-office hit the league has ever known—the reality is that he’s still human.

Soccer fans in Vancouver were set to get their first look at Messi in an Inter Miami uniform this weekend, until the Whitecaps announced late Thursday that the superstar would not be traveling with his club for Saturday’s match nearly 3,000 miles away. And neither would fellow former FC Barcelona standouts Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets. That’s putting the Canadian MLS side in a tricky position.

With Messi—the eight-time Ballon d’Or award winner—coming to town, a club-record MLS-era crowd had been expected to fill up BC Place. The stadium can hold up to 54,500 fans for soccer games if the upper deck is open, but last year averaged 16,745 for Whitecaps home games. Earlier this season, Vancouver broke its franchise attendance record as 32,465 fans showed up to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary.

After it became apparent Messi and the other Miami stars wouldn’t be playing Saturday, the Whitecaps told fans they would be providing a 50% discount on all in-stadium food and beverage, with youth 18 and under getting one free kid’s meal combo. A small concession for the disappointed fan base. “Unfortunately, we have no control over who plays for our opponent,” a club statement read.

Keeping Pace

Saturday’s match will be Inter Miami’s 16th of the MLS season, and seventh that Messi has missed. He dealt with a leg injury earlier this year, but his absence this weekend is apparently just a team decision to rest the star ahead of a busy summer schedule for Messi and other international players. 

It should also be noted that Vancouver plays on an artificial turf field—a stark difference from the grass surfaces Messi has spent nearly his entire professional career playing on. Messi has said artificial surfaces wouldn’t prevent him from playing any road matches, and he has played on multiple turf fields in MLS so far.

Inter Miami, which has the best record in MLS with 31 points in its first 15 games, has a home match against Atlanta United on Wednesday. The Copa America, in which Messi will play for Argentina, begins June 20. MLS does not take an international break like other leagues, so clubs carry on without some top players. In July and August, Miami will have the Leagues Cup on top of its MLS schedule.

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