Lionel Messi finally took a break, much to the dismay of thousands of fans who paid big money to see Inter Miami play on the road against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night.
Dozens of celebrities, including Matt Damon, Bad Bunny, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Fat Joe, DMC and many top tennis players in town for the U.S. Open (including Novak Djokovic) were on the guest list for the highly anticipated match, which was also being shown live on a giant screen at Times Square.
The burning question heading into the game was whether Messi would start after playing in all eight games since his arrival, including the full 90 minutes in the past six, and 120 minutes in Wednesday’s U.S. Open semifinal victory.
The answer: No.
Coach Tata Martino chose to rest five regular starters — Messi, Sergio Busquets, Josef Martinez, DeAndre Yedlin and Benjamin Cremaschi. Instead, he loaded the lineup with five Under-22 players Facundo Farias, Diego Gomez, David Ruiz, Noah Allen and Tomas Aviles.
Messi, Busquets, Martinez, Yedlin and Cremaschi were all on the bench and available to come in as substitutes.
Fans chanted “Messi! Messi” during player introductions before the game and broke into “We Want Messi!” by the sixth minute.
At least one third of the fans at Red Bull Arena Saturday night were decked in Miami pink and Messi No. 10 shirts from the Argentine national team and FC Barcelona. Messi merchandise was on sale from the moment fans disembarked onto the Path train platform adjacent to the stadium. All along the streets and into the parking lot, Messi shirts, hats, scarves and pins were for sale.
Large groups of Argentine fans gathered in Messi shirts to enjoy pre-game steak barbecues.
After taking a one-month hiatus to play cup tournaments, Inter Miami resumed MLS play on the road. It was the league debut for Messi, Busquets, Alba, Farias, Gomez and Aviles, all of whom signed this summer.
Martino had said he might have to rotate starters as players seemed fatigued after a jam-packed schedule over the past month.
Miami played four games in the past 12 days, three of them on the road, and has another three games over the next nine days — at the Red Bulls on Saturday, at home against Nashville on Wednesday, on the road against Los Angeles FC on Sept. 2.