About 50 minutes before Wednesday’s match against the Fire at Soldier Field, Inter Miami officially released its lineup. As expected, Lionel Messi was not listed, meaning a Fire-record announced crowd of 62,124 didn’t see the player widely considered the greatest in the history of soccer.
The news, while expected, was still disappointing for fans such as Vianey Hernandez. Though Hernandez is a soccer fan living in Skokie who follows the Fire, she made it clear with her Argentina national team jersey who she was there to see.
“It’s unfortunate and it sucks [Messi isn’t playing], but soccer is soccer,” said Hernandez, who paid $600 for two tickets. “You kind of just go with it and deal with it. Hopefully there’s another time to see him play. It might not be here, but I’m willing to go see him.”
Even without Messi, a lot of people were still willing to see this match, which the Fire won 4-1 to move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Messi, 36, was ruled out by Miami due to a lingering leg injury and did not travel to Chicago. Though he practiced apart from the team Tuesday to provide at least some hope he’d play, Messi missed his fifth Inter Miami game out of the last six.
The seating bowl at Soldier Field was well over three-quarters full, albeit with more than a few people wearing Messi, Inter Miami, Barcelona or Argentina gear. The fans did make plenty of noise, the most coming when Xherdan Shaqiri and Maren Haile-Selassie scored their two goals apiece in the second half. Before the game, there was a vibrant activation outside the stadium, one that included a goat in reference to people calling Messi “The GOAT.”
Once inside, patrons were handed light-up bracelets and saw a brief halftime concert from rapper Lil Durk. Mayor Brandon Johnson was on the field before the game, and Chicago native Brendan Hunt, best known as Coach Beard from “Ted Lasso,” sat by the pitch.
Celebrities, singers and politicians can be draws, but the Fire also appealed to people’s wallets to get them to Soldier Field. A lot of those wallets were considerably lighter because of the inflated prices to see Messi.
To create an incentive for customers to still turn out and maybe create new supporters, the Fire gave single-match fans who showed up either a $250 credit toward a 2024 season ticket or a $50 credit that can be used for any game next year. Those deals, plus all of the peripherals around the match, were hoped to entice people to come back for less-glitzy events.
Hernandez, however, wasn’t thinking about that deal as she processed the news about Messi.
“Everyone is here to see a World Cup champion play,” Hernandez said. “At the talent level that Messi plays, it would have been nice if we could see him play.”
Like Hernandez, Michael Sengullu of Downers Grove was disappointed but not surprised that Messi wasn’t around. Once Messi started missing games a few weeks back, Sengullu had a hunch Messi might not appear in Chicago.
He had been so excited about seeing Messi at Soldier Field, Sengullu bought a 2024 season ticket that came with a pass to Wednesday’s match. He said Messi was 95% of the reason he bought the ticket for next year.
“I probably will enjoy [the game],” Sengullu said. “I love [soccer] nonetheless, but it won’t be as much as I would have if Messi was playing.”