Soccer star Lionel Messi to miss game against Vancouver Whitecaps

Marc DeLuca and his wife had the perfect sixth birthday gift for their son, Jack: tickets to see Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF play the Whitecaps in Vancouver. 

News that the legendary Argentine soccer star didn’t make the trip to B.C. has devastated not only the DeLucas, but thousands of fans who ponied up for pricey tickets to Saturday’s game. 

“It was supposed to be a big surprise for [Jack] to see his soccer idol,” said Marc DeLuca, who spent about $1,500 for five tickets in the upper bowl at B.C. Place. 

“It just completely obliterates our birthday plans.”

WATCH | Fans outraged as Messi doesn’t make trip to B.C.: 

Fans outraged Lionel Messi won’t be playing in Vancouver

Several soccer stars — including the legendary Lionel Messi — will not be in Miami’s lineup to face Vancouver in their MLS matchup at B.C. Place on Saturday. As Michelle Morton is finding out, that’s not sitting well with scores of fans who paid a lot of money to see the legend on the pitch.

Messi isn’t the only legendary player set to miss the match, which was expected to draw more than 50,000 fans.

Miami — the top team in the Major League Soccer standings — also opted to keep Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets in Florida. 

The decision is based on the club’s upcoming schedule, which includes three games between Saturday and the following Saturday, Miami head coach Gerardo (Tata) Martino said Friday. 

A Hispanic man scratches his head while sitting in a soccer dugout.
Inter Miami head coach Gerardo (Tata) Martino says that the reason he left behind Messi — as well as fellow legends Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets — was due to scheduling reasons, not the artificial turf at B.C. Place. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

“We thought it was the most prudent for them not to play this match. They have been training but they will not be available for the game,” he said through an interpreter.

“We obviously understand the frustration of the people wanting to watch these players play. We as coaches sometimes have to make these very difficult football decisions. But we always have to keep in mind the players’ health first.” 

Martino was quick to note the artificial turf at B.C. Place did not play a role in the decision. Keeping the trio at home was all about saving them from gruelling travel and a three-hour time change, he said. 

WATCH | Whitecaps player and superfan react to news Messi is out: 

Whitecaps to host Inter Miami — but Lionel Messi won’t be playing

Several soccer stars — including the legendary Lionel Messi — will not be in Miami’s lineup to face Vancouver in their MLS matchup at B.C. Place on Saturday. Peter Czimmerman, president of the Vancouver Southsiders fan group, and Whitecaps player Brian White talk about what the superstar no-show means for fans and the team.

In the past, MLS has opted not to schedule mid-week games for teams that have travelled long distances, or scheduled another road game nearby, Martino added. 

“But it’s not a complaint,” he said. “We understand in our specific case that the players that we’re talking about are very important for everyone. But the health of these players is the priority.”

For soccer fan Sarkis Vides, Miami leaving three of its top stars at home feels “kind of disrespectful.”

Three players wearing pink exercise on a soccer pitch.
Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi, left, forward Luis Suarez, center, and midfielder Sergio Busquets, right, warm up before an MLS soccer match earlier this year. (Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press)

“If it’s a concert, like a Taylor Swift ticket, and she doesn’t show up, then the event is cancelled,” said Vides. “So you’re paying for Inter Miami versus Whitecaps, but Inter Miami’s squad isn’t really showing up. Their B-team is showing up.”

MLS issued a statement Friday that said it will “continue to review measures regarding how clubs report player availability.” 

“Major League Soccer acknowledges fan disappointment when marquee players are unavailable for matches,” the statement read. “Each MLS club makes its own personnel and competitive decisions based on what they believe is in the best interests of the club and each player.”

Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said he’s disappointed, too. 

“It’s a bummer like for everyone else,” he said. “We would love also the opportunity to have the possibility to play against a lot of very strong and quality players and arguably probably the best player in the last 20 or 30 years. But it is what it is. The main focus is playing well.” 

Whitecaps offering complimentary ticket

The ‘Caps (5-4-4) are in need of a solid result, especially after dropping a 2-0 decision to Canadian Premier League side Cavalry FC in Canadian Championship play on Tuesday. 

Saturday won’t be the first time Messi has missed an MLS game this season. Fans in Orlando, New York and Washington, D.C., were also disappointed when the World Cup winner didn’t play road games in their cities. 

After signing a blockbuster deal with Miami last summer, Messi also missed games in Atlanta and Chicago. The Chicago Fire attempted to win over angry fans by offering a credit for the game. 

A white man wearing a sweater speaks during a news conference.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC CEO Axel Schuster says that the Whitecaps will offer 50% off on all concessions inside the stadium on Saturday. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Nathan Vanstone, vice president of the Whitecaps’ broadcast and communications department, said in an emailed statement to CBC News that fans in attendance for the Saturday game against Inter Miami CF will receive a complimentary ticket to a future 2024 regular season match.

According to Vanstone, those who purchased tickets online will receive additional details to their email. 

The Whitecaps are also offering fans 50 per cent off all in-stadium food and beverages on Saturday, plus a free kids meal for anyone 18 and under.

Not enough, say fans

But that’s not enough for a group of fans from Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean First Nation in Saskatchewan, who made a 22-hour trip to Vancouver to see their favourite player.

“We found out he wasn’t coming in Kamloops, B.C., so it has kind of taken a toll on us,” said Shahean Moosomin.

The group spent about $15,000 to attend the Saturday game, he said. 

“These tickets cost an arm and a leg and a free game on any other day is is not even close to that same price,” said Clement Laliberte, who is also part of the band. 

Despite the disappointment, other members said they are determined to make the best of the situation.

“We brought our youth here so they could experience a new culture and everything that the city has to offer. So it’s still good,” said the group’s leader Denise Spyglass.

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