Since Lionel Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami, the club has experienced a turnaround in its fortunes, going unbeaten in 11 games after a nine-game winless streak.
But that all changed on Saturday as Inter Miami sunk to a 5-2 defeat against Atlanta United, after taking to the field without Messi who was rested for the first time since signing for the club in July.
Inter Miami scored first following a superb Leonardo Campana goal in the 25th minute, as he controlled the ball with his chest, chipped it over a defender, and volleyed it into the net.
However, Atlanta United scored three unanswered goals in just eight minutes, courtesy of Tristan Muyumba, a Miami own goal and Brooks Lennon, to take a 3-1 lead into halftime.
Inter Miami cut Atlanta’s deficit in the 52nd minute after Campana converted a penalty from the spot following a handball in the box but its comeback was short-lived as Atlanta ran away with the match scoring two more goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Tyler Wolff to seal victory.
Despite Messi’s absence, about 72,000 fans flocked to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
One fan told CNN’s Don Riddell that he had paid almost US$2,000 to see Messi play while another said that she “wanted to go home right now” on learning he was not going to feature.
A club source told CNN the decision was made to rest the Argentinian World Cup winner due to the number of games he has played since signing for the club in July.
The turf field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta did not play a role, the source said.
Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda said he found out through X, formerly known as Twitter, that Messi would not be playing, and urged his team to change the narrative around the game.
“Honestly, I told the players, there are a lot of things out there in the atmosphere and everything seems to be about Inter Miami,” he said, according to ESPN. “We have to turn that to about us.”
Inter Miami’s next match is scheduled for Wednesday when the club hosts Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while Atlanta also next play on Wednesday against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington D.C.