Record crowd of 65,000 expected for Messi, Inter Miami vs. New England Revolution

A record crowd of more than 65,000 is expected at Gillette Stadium Saturday night and it appears ticket buyers will get exactly what they were hoping for, a chance to see Lionel Messi in person as he leads first-place Inter Miami against the last-place New England Revolution.

There was some question from fans and media as to whether Messi and Luis Suarez would subject their aging legs to artificial turf; but Inter Miami coach Tata Martino put that concern to rest on Friday morning.

“The players are all available, all the healthy players will travel, and then we’ll see the formation to face New England,” Martino said. “We already played on artificial turf in Charlotte last season and there was no problem.”

Messi played the full 90 minutes against Charlotte in that game. He has played at Gillette before, when he scored during Argentina’s 4-1 win over Venezuela in the 2016 Copa America Centenario quarterfinals. But that game was played on a temporary grass field that was placed over the turf, per FIFA rules.

Revolution coach Caleb Porter, calling Saturday’s match “the biggest game in Boston soccer history,” expects Messi to play.

“That’s our mind-set, that he will play,” Porter said earlier this week. “They haven’t played on turf this year, but he played last year in Charlotte. So, our mind-set is that he is going to play.”

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner ranks second in the league with seven goals in six games and is tied for the MLS lead with six assists. League leader Cristian Arango of Real Salt Lake has scored one more goal than Messi but played in three more games.

Last weekend Messi scored two goals and had an assist in a 3-1 home win over Nashville.

“You don’t stop Messi, but it’s can you limit his touches in key areas? Because when he’s in key areas around the box, he is lethal,” Porter said. “He is unstoppable in some ways, so we just have to do it by committee.

“We’re not going to man-mark him. We have to do it by committee in the zones. He floats everywhere, so wherever he floats, be aware. Can we get guys around him and make it a game where he’s not where he wants to be?”

New England defender Nick Lima added: “You want to get him the ball as little as possible. If we create chances, we play in behind their forwards who hopefully don’t track back as much, then we can possess the ball a little more. The more we have the ball, the less he does.”

Porter said that while all the talk is about Messi, his teammate Luis Suarez is also quite the handful. Suarez, the 37-year-old Uruguayan striker, has scored six goals in nine games and has four assists.

“Everybody forgets about Suarez, who is a world class player as well,” Porter said. “And Alba (who is out injured) and Busquets. They have a very talented team. We know how they play.”

Alba, Diego Gomez (ankle), and Federico Redondo (knee) are injured and ruled out for Miami but forward Leo Campana and Robert Taylor will make their return from injury. Saturday also marks the debut of Paraguayan attacking midfielder Matias Rojas, who signed last week after playing for Racing Club in Argentina and Corinthians in Brazil.

Rojas spoke to the media for the first time on Friday. He said he is eager to learn from Messi and the other elite players, and is a nature lover, so he is enjoying living by the beach.

“I don’t want to invade their space but take advantage of the opportunity to learn from them,” he said. “In these first few days I can see [Messi] wants to win everything at training and that is a great example for us.”

Most of the player acquisitions since Martino took over last summer have been from South America, including six from Argentina, two from Paraguay and one from Uruguay.

“That has something to do with this coaching staff and where we are from, South America is the area we know best, and we have a lot of contacts there,” Martino said. “I feel that a young man who comes from South America sees MLS as a good trampoline to go to Europe… and it allows us to be competitive because those players are competitive and have adapted well to the big stars.”

That said, he named goalkeeper Drake Callender a co-captain, partly because he has been with the team since its first season and also, Martino said, because he thinks it is important, with so many foreigners in MLS, for the team to have “a strong American footprint, and Drake fills that role very well.”

Miami sits atop the Eastern Conference with 18 points and a 5-2-3 record.

The Revolution is off to its worst start in 29 years with a 1-6-1 record. Despite its poor start, former MLS MVP Carles Gil remains a dangerous player Miami must watch.

Gil said he will be focused mostly on Sergio Busquets.

“We play in the same area, and Busquets is a guy that the ball is passed to him and then he finds Messi every time,” Gil said Friday. “So, I need to have a good press on him and make sure he is not comfortable on the ball.”

Up until this weekend, the biggest crowd for a Revolution game was 61,316 for the 2002 MLS Cup title game between the Revolution and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Two weeks ago, the Miami game against Sporting Kansas City drew 72,610 at Arrowhead Stadium.

How to Watch:

Inter Miami vs. New England is at 7:30 p.m. on Apple TV through the MLS Season Pass.