They came from all over the country, many wearing pink Inter Miami soccer jerseys donning the No. 10 of Lionel Messi.
Messi Mania had come to Harrison and despite not starting Saturday night’s game, the Argentinian soccer legend didn’t disappoint the legions of fans, many of whom paid hundreds of dollars to see a glimpse of the great Messi.
In the 89th minute, Messi showed why he is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time, as he scored a jaw-dropping goal in Inter Miami’s 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls in front of a sell out crowd at Red Bull Arena.
Messi received the ball inside the box and with three Red Bull defenders closing in, dished a touch pass to the right between two of them and to Benjamin Cremaschi. Cremaschi crossed it back to Messi in front of the net, who scored the goal much to the delight of the crowd and even to the awe of his teammates.
“I just catch myself watching him instead of picking up on my assignment,” said Kamal Miller, a defender on Miami. “It’s tough to stay focused when you have such a great presence.”
It was the perfect ending for one of the most anticipated matches in MLS history and the hottest ticket for a game at Red Bull Arena since its opening.
Most games, a fan can log onto an online ticket broker the morning of a match and purchase tickets for less than $20 apiece. For Lionel Messi? Good luck finding one for less than $400 with plenty of fans paying upwards of $1,000 for lower level seats.
According to a statement released by the Red Bulls prior to Saturday’s match, fans from 33 different states had bought tickets for that night’s game, some of those tickets going for as much as $10,000 on the resale market.
Normally half-full lots were filled to capacity hours before the 7:30 p.m.kickoff and is there was any doubt as to why, you were sure to see a tailgate with fan hanging banners or wearing his blue and white Argentina National Team jersey.
The 26,276-seat stadium was filled to capacity an hour before the start and they were initially greeted with the disappointment of learning Messi would not be in the starting lineup.
Within the first five minutes of the match, the chants of “we want Messi!” rang throughout the stadium.
Early in the second half, when Messi took off his pinny and started warming up down the sidelines, did it become clear that the hundreds of dollars spent would not go to waste. He entered the game in the 60th minute to a deafening roar.
The 36-year-old attacking midfielder, is considered by many to be the greatest soccer player in history Between his professional career – mostly with Barcelona – and international career, Messi has scored more than 800 career goals. He is a seven time recipient of the Ballon d’Or trophy, which is given to the best men’s soccer player each year by the French news magazine France Football. No other player has won it more than five times.
In 2022, Messi led Argentina to its first World Cup championship in 36 years, defeating France in a penalty shootout. Messi was named the recipient of the Golden Ball awarded to the player of the tournament, becoming the first player to ever win the award twice.
Since making his debut with Inter Miami on July 21, Messi has scored 11 goals in nine games, the first 10 of them as part of the Leagues Cup as well as the U.S. Open Cup. Saturday marked Messi’s formal MLS debut.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)