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"Where is Messi?" Leo Lured More Than 50K Spectators to Canada, But He Didn't Come Himself

Vancouver Whitecaps were disappointed: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Sergio Busquets did not come, yet Inter Miami still won (2-1).

The Floridians extended their unbeaten streak to 10 matches, maintaining their lead in the MLS Eastern Conference with 34 points after 16 rounds. However, Cincinnati is close behind with 33 points and a game in hand.

Vancouver, with 19 points, remains in the Western Conference playoff zone. For the highly anticipated match against Inter, the club drew a record MLS attendance of 51,032 spectators (Vancouver's previous record was 32,500). The Canadians even organized a pre-match party with food, drinks, music, and activities with some players. But the main stars of the event did not show up.

Why did Inter come without their leading stars?

The issue was the tight schedule. Next week, Miami has two home matches: Wednesday against Atlanta and Saturday against St. Louis.

The trip to Vancouver is the longest in MLS, taking 6.5 hours one way. Additionally, the Canadian club has an artificial pitch.

Messi has previously played on artificial turf in MLS and stated it's not a problem. However, considering all factors, the team decided to rest their leaders. Leo and Suarez opened an international youth tournament in Miami on the same evening, where Messi's son Thiago was playing.

"We understand the fans' disappointment and the significance of these players for the league and the market," said Inter coach Tata Martino. "But sometimes we have to make tough decisions that upset people. We must take care of our club, team, and players.

Vancouver involves 12 hours of flight plus a three-hour time difference. We are following the plan I mentioned at the beginning of the year: we need to earn as many points as possible while all our players are available. This will change in the coming weeks (when players leave for their national teams to prepare for the Copa America)."

Vancouver offered a 50% discount on food and drinks to compensate for Messi's absence

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When it became clear that Jordi Alba would be the only star player (who provided an assist), Vancouver hurried to appease the fans who had bought overpriced tickets.

The club offered a 50% discount on all food and drinks at the stadium. Additionally, fans under 18 were given a free food voucher.

"We understand that many fans will be disappointed," said Vancouver's CEO Axel Schuster. "But we strive to make this event special for everyone. Unfortunately, we can't control who plays for our opponent, and it was important to communicate with the fans as quickly as possible."

Fans entertained themselves as best they could: they celebrated the Scottish Messi, Leo's bodyguard and the star of Vancouver's hockey team.

"Where is Messi? Where is Messi?" These are familiar chants from fans when Leo doesn't make it to away games. It was the same in Vancouver, where spectators expressed their disappointment in various ways.

One fan who specifically flew in for the game detailed his expenses: just two tickets cost $1,400, not to mention the flight, hotel, and food.

Others tried to stay positive. Yes, Messi didn't come, but his famous bodyguard, Yassine Chueko, was there.

Vancouver's Scottish midfielder Ryan Gauld, who once earned the nickname "Wee Messi" for his playing style and short stature, was also on the field.

And why do Canadians need Leo when they have Vancouver Canucks hockey star JT Miller in the stadium? When shown on the screen, fans immediately chanted his name.

But the fans were still left with a bitter feeling. Rachel Renzi, who bought a $335 ticket for her brother, who came from Italy specifically for this event, was unhappy with Vancouver's response:

"The reason they sold out the stadium is Messi. I understand they can't guarantee who will play, but they can control the ticket prices. Just saying we are selling food vouchers at half price is not enough. They should offer a partial refund to those who paid so much."

Published by Patrick Jane