ATLANTA (AP) — Inter Miami star Lionel Messi did not dress for Saturday’s match at Atlanta United, the second match he missed this week.
Atlanta is among five MLS stadiums with artificial turf surfaces. Miami did not announce reasons that Messi and defender Jordi Alba did not dress, but Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank believes the FieldTurf was not the reason.
Blank referred to Messi’s statement after signing with Inter Miami that he wouldn’t avoid playing on FieldTurf.
“I think he made that decision. I don’t really have an opinion on that. I’d just repeat what he said in his press conference, that he has competed on artificial turf since he was a youngster and to some extent as a professional, Blank said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with his decision. I think he suffered some sort of injury, however minor it might be.”
Blank spoke at a news conference before the match to discuss details of Friday’s announcement that the U.S. Soccer Federation plans to build a national training center in Atlanta. The project is backed by a $50 million donation from Blank.
Blank said NFL research since 2021 showed injuries on FieldTurf and natural grass to be “about the same.” Falcons CEO Rich McKay, a member of the NFL competition committee who also attended the news conference, also said research showed injuries on FieldTurf and grass to be similarly common.
Messi’s absence for the Major League Soccer match was a disappointment for a crowd of 71,635 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Many fans wore pink Inter Miami shirts with Messi’s name on the back. Flozel Marriott, a native of Jamaica and Atlanta resident who previously lived in Miami, attended the game with his wife, daughters and nephew. All wore Messi jerseys, though he said he otherwise supports Atlanta United.
“I was an Argentina fan growing up and I’ve always been a fan of Messi,” Marriott said. “I’m an Atlanta fan as well, but today I’m here supporting Messi. I want my children to see a legend.”
Marriott was surprised to hear Messi would not attend the game.
“No, I did not know that,” Marriott said, looking at his family. “If he’s not, they’re going to be disappointed. That’s where we spent all the money, just to see him.”
Messi watched from the bench on Tuesday in Argentina’s World Cup qualifying win at Bolivia. Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said Messi was not feeling well.
Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Friday he will avoid overworking the 36-year-old Messi during a busy portion of the team’s schedule.
“We will be careful with him because we have a lot of important games in a short span,” said Martino, the former Atlanta coach.
Miami has matches at home against Toronto on Wednesday and at Orlando on Sept. 24.
“This is something that we knew would happen at some point,” Martino said, adding Messi needed time “to get used to our needs.”
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