ATLANTA — Town of Atlanta has suffered greater than its share of bitter sports activities disappointments, however at the very least most of these occurred throughout the sport. One of the most anticipated regular-season occasions in the metropolis’s historical past — a Saturday night go to from Lionel Messi and Inter Miami — misplaced just about all its movie star juice 18 hours earlier than kickoff. Messi opted to relaxation and stay in Miami, irritating a sellout crowd full of Messi jerseys and newly minted Inter Miami followers.
“I’m extremely upset, given the stage of anticipation and elevated seating capability that was made accessible, which I believed was based on Messi’s MLS involvement and attendance,” mentioned Frank Chavez, a fan expressing the ideas — and expenditures — of many in attendance. Chavez flew in from Texas together with his son and acquired tickets on the secondary marketplace for $300 apiece.
“The desire would have been to have him right here, clearly,” Atlanta United proprietor Arthur Clean mentioned prior to the sport in response to a query from Yahoo Sports activities. “It’s the nature of sports activities. Accidents happen. If he can’t be right here, he can’t be right here.”
The need-he-won’t-he started even earlier than Messi formally signed with Miami. At the same time as speculators snatched up tickets for future Inter Miami dates in August, September and October, longtime Messi observers warned in ominous tones that he wouldn’t play on synthetic turf. When that idea proved groundless, consideration turned to Argentina’s World Cup qualifying matches held final week. When Messi sat out Argentina’s Tuesday match towards Bolivia, hopes in Atlanta soared … solely to crash late Friday evening when phrase trickled out that Messi did not journey with the team to Atlanta and wouldn’t be taking part in in spite of everything.
“That is a determination that the team made as a result of Messi has performed in additional video games than anyone ever anticipated,” MLS commissioner Don Garber mentioned shortly earlier than the match started. “He got here in shortly, he performed in the U.S. Open Cup, the Leagues Cup, he performed for his nation. That’s a lot of video games for a man that’s delivered in so some ways, on and off the discipline.”
Nonetheless, for Atlanta followers hoping to see Messi, it should have felt like attempting to defend the GOAT himself: a little hope, a little prayer, a little religion … and the information that in the finish, it doesn’t matter what, Messi was at all times going to do no matter he wished.
“We have been mentally ready for the worst to occur, and it looks like it has,” mentioned Kael Rewers, who paid $150 a ticket and traveled from Illinois for the match. “The profit is that Messi acquired us into the Atlanta United [when they played earlier this season], so we’re going to make the best of it.”
Atlanta has a well-earned rep as a front-running city, its followers displaying out in massive numbers when their team is successful however at all times discovering one thing else to do when the Braves, Hawks or Falcons battle.
That dynamic doesn’t fairly apply to United, nonetheless. The team averages 46,504 followers per sport, most in MLS, per Soccer Stadium Digest. Eight of the prime 10 most attended MLS matches have taken place in Mercedes-Benz Stadium; solely LAFC’s Rose Bowl match on July 4 and Charlotte FC’s debut in March 2022 have eclipsed the Atlanta United.
Even with secondary ticket costs effectively into the triple digits, Saturday’s match virtually certainly would have ranked amongst the best-attended in MLS historical past. As an alternative, ticket costs cratered, falling from a get-in worth of greater than $200 earlier in the week to as little as $40 in the hours earlier than the sport.
For Saturday evening’s match, the team opened up extra seating used for Tremendous Bowls and faculty soccer nationwide championships, and bought out the home. Regardless of Messi’s absence and the sky-is-falling ticket selloff, the overwhelming majority of followers ended up coming to the match anyway.
Liz Goncher and Ian Helfrich, two native college students, purchased their tickets a few days in the past for $300 apiece. “We acquired to see him a few years in the past in Barcelona,” Goncher mentioned. “So at the very least we’ve seen him as soon as.”
If there was any doubt why many of the followers have been at the match, solely a few of the 1000’s in the crowd sporting pink Messi jerseys cheered when Miami’s Leo Campana scored the sport’s first purpose in the match’s twenty fifth minute — and a entire lot extra stood and celebrated when Atlanta’s Tristan Muyumba drilled an equalizer about 10 minutes later.
The absence of Messi-cheering casuals left the stadium’s environment in the palms of the Atlanta United hardcores — the 17s, they name them right here, after the 12 months wherein United started operation. With raucous chants, huge swaying flags, fist-pumping Infinity Gauntlets and whirling giveaway towels, the 17s saved up a regular celebration that exploded into euphoria as United scored three straight to take a halftime lead of 3-1. United went on to rating twice in the second half and Miami as soon as for a closing rating of 5-2. It was Miami’s first loss since Messi arrived.
That, in the finish, is the best end result that Atlanta United may have hoped for, each on and off the discipline. Different golf equipment throughout MLS the place Messi really took the discipline — Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Dallas, amongst others — have reported that new followers who confirmed up to the stadium simply to see Messi have returned later to help the dwelling membership.
“This team, this stadium was drawing 45-50,000 earlier than the [Messi] schedule was made,” Garber mentioned. “I’m certain there shall be different alternatives.”
In the meantime, most followers appeared to undertake Frank Chavez’s philosophy for the way to recognize the night: “Having enjoyable,” he mentioned, “largely wishing that Messi would have made an look on the discipline, even for a jiffy.”