- Lionel Messi expected to miss his first MLS match since joining Inter Miami
- Fans spoke to DailyMail.com to detail their long trips to see him in Atlanta
- DailyMail.com provides all the latest international sports news
Thousands of Lionel Messi fans have been left distraught after traveling across the country to see their hero play in Atlanta – only to learn he stayed in Miami and will miss the match.
Ahead of the highly anticipated – and sold-out – MLS match between Atlanta United and Inter Miami, thousands of pink Messi jerseys were seen around the stadium, but their favorite player was nowhere to be found.
DailyMail.com spoke to fans outside the 73,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium who had traveled thousands of miles in a bid to see Messi in the flesh, only to learn he would miss his first match in MLS since joining Inter Miami.
One family drove 10 hours at night from South Florida to watch the game in Atlanta, even though most fans had paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of a ticket.
Until Saturday morning, Messi was expected to play at least a part in the match, but then footage surfaced online showing him watching his son’s soccer match for the academy Inter Miami.
Lionel Messi fans paid hundreds of dollars for courtside seats to see their hero in Atlanta
Messi’s jerseys were everywhere except on the pitch itself in Atlanta, leaving fans gutted.
Tickets for the MLS match sold out weeks ago, with Atlanta United staff even setting up extra temporary seats to cope with the huge demand.
Following the news of Messi’s absence, ticket prices plummeted, with resale tickets spotted online for as little as $40 in the hours leading up to the match.
Messi picked up a knock while on international duty with Argentina, missing their second match against Bolivia, but he trained as normal on Friday and coach Tata Martino was coy about his involvement in the game at come.
Additional black seats were used in Atlanta to accommodate the huge demand for tickets
Fans lined up to get into the sold-out stadium, but Messi was back in Miami.
Messi was spotted watching his eldest son, Thiago, train on Saturday morning – he missed the match
Messi expected to miss an Inter Miami match for the first time since arriving in the United States
Some concerns had also been raised over the grass pitch in Atlanta, given it would be the first artificial surface Messi, 36, had played on since landing in the United States.
But until Saturday morning, fans had traveled to Atlanta as planned, confident of seeing their man play at least a small role in what is a huge game for Inter Miami’s playoff hopes.
After being dead and buried at the bottom of the league’s Eastern Conference, three wins and a draw in Messi’s four MLS games have left Miami just six points out of the playoffs with eight matches remaining.