Messi misses second match in one week
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 Major League Soccer (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 why 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 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 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 things out there in the atmosphere, and everything seems to be about Inter Miami. We have to turn that to about us."
Blank spoke at a news conference before the match to discuss details of Friday's announcement that the US Soccer Federation plans to build a national training centre 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 "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 similarly common.
Messi's absence from the MLS match disappointed the 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 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.