Messi-less Inter Miami gets cool reception from near-sellout Vancouver crowd Saturday

If Inter Miami is going to extend its nine-game unbeaten streak, it will have to do it without Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets.

Much to the dismay of the 54,000 people who bought tickets expecting to see Messi play against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, all three stars skipped the road game Saturday night to rest for the upcoming two home games Wednesday and Saturday.

Miami coach Tata Martino said he understood the Vancouver ticket buyers’ frustration, but said Suarez, 37, and Messi, who turns 37 in June, could not travel 12 hours round-trip and be expected to play a division game Wednesday and another game Saturday. Busquets, meanwhile, had played the most minutes of anyone on the team, and needed a break, Martino said.

Messi and Suarez are spending their weekend off at Inter Miami’s home stadium in Fort Lauderdale watching their sons play for the club academy’s Under 12 team in the inaugural Inter Miami CF Youth International Cup. Messi’s son, Thiago, and Suarez’s son, Benjamin, are teammates, just like their fathers were for years at FC Barcelona and now with Inter Miami.

Messi and Suarez attended their son’s game Friday night against Orlando City U12s, which ended in a 1-1 tie. They escorted the team onto the field, and Messi addressed the crowd of 10,000 that showed up for the tournament opening ceremony and first game.

“Welcome! It’s beautiful to see the stadium like this for this event,” a smiling Messi said into the microphone. “It’s a pleasure to have you here at home to enjoy this beautiful experience.”

He went on to say he knows the sacrifices parents make taking their children to training sessions, matches and tournaments, such as the Youth International Cup, which includes boys and girls U9 to U19 teams from all over the United States and some from abroad. He urged them to “make it an experience that lasts a lifetime.”

The video and photos of Messi and Suarez enjoying themselves back home did not sit well with many Vancouver fans, who expressed their displeasure on social media. Also, fans at the stadium booed Inter Miami’s every touch on their opening possession Saturday night.

Leo Campana, who scored Inter Miami’s game-winning goal against D.C. United last week with his first touch off the bench in the 94th minute, started in place of Suarez. Robert Taylor started for Messi.

The rest of Miami’s starting lineup was: Drake Callender, Tomas Aviles, Matias Rojas, Jordi Alba, Julian Gressel, Sergiy Kryvtsov, Benja Cremaschi, Yannick Bright, and Marcelo Weigandt.

Midfielder Federico Redondo returned to the game roster for the first time in two months and was on the bench along with Leo Afonso, Lawson Sunderland, David Ruiz, Franco Negri, Noah Allen, Ryan Sailor, CJ Dos Santos and forward Ryan Carmichael, a rookie from Hofstra University who was signed on a short-term loan from Inter Miami’s second team.

The Whitecaps are winless over their past five games, while Miami has gone nine consecutive games without a loss and sits atop the Eastern Conference and in first place in the Supporters Shield race with 31 points from nine wins, two losses and four ties.

A big reason for Miami’s success is the dynamic duo of Messi and Suarez. Between them they have 21 goals and 17 assists over a span of 14 games. Messi has 10 goals and 12 assists over 10 games and Suarez has 11 goals and five assists over 14 appearances.