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. Messi and defender Jordi Alba did not dress for Atlanta United's 5-2 win. Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said the decision to hold out Messi was “because he has muscular fatigue and it was prudent to leave him.”
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank said he believes the FieldTurf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a surface viewed by some players as more taxing on their bodies than grass, was not the reason Messi remained in Miami.
Blank referred to Messi's statement after signing with Inter Miami that he wouldn't avoid playing on an artificial surface.
“I think he made that decision," Blank said.. "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. 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.”
Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda said he learned about Messi's decision on social media.
“I checked the Twitter account to know he was not coming,” Pineda said, adding he encouraged his players to remain focused despite the attention given Messi's status.
“Honestly, I told the players, there are a lot of things out there in the atmosphere and everything seems to be about Inter Miami. We have to turn that to about us.”
A photo Messi posted of a pizza he ordered quickly went viral on social media.
Lionel Messi might have just ordered the worst pizza in the world. pic.twitter.com/ycPPN4wn2H
— Phillip Rollo (@ByPhillipRollo) September 16, 2023
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.”
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer