That long-shot matchup Philadelphia Union fans penciled into their calendars has panned out.
Philly will face global superstar Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup semifinal tonight at 7 p.m. at Subaru Park in Chester.
Messi, a FIFA World Cup winner with Argentina and arguably the greatest male player the sport has ever seen, joined Miami in July. Since then, his presence has turned around Miami’s fortunes, and helped massively boost interest in the team and Major League Soccer, even though he has yet to play an MLS game.
Ticket sales for the match were made available at 2 p.m. Saturday. The team announced that the 18,500 capacity stadium had sold out of seats within eight minutes of the launch, and directed people to SeatGeek, the official secondary market. As of 10:30 p.m. Monday, prices were hovering around $217 per ticket.
On Monday, ESPN reported that the average price of a ticket was $556, the most expensive for a Union match in the team’s history.
The Union announced that it has received a limited allotment of tickets back from MLS, which were made available on the club’s site at 5 p.m. Monday.
Union head coach Jim Curtin has urged Union fans not to sell their tickets to Miami fans.
“We’re talking about the best player of all time coming here, in a semifinal, with a trophy on the line … So it’s a big game,” Curtin said. “ I know our fans are gonna show up. Please don’t sell you tickets, no matter how much money they’re offering for them. Please.”
Apple TV is streaming the game. Subscribers require the additional $14.99-a-month MLS Season Pass.
The Union won its quarterfinal match on Friday night against Mexican club Querétaro 2-1, with Paoli-native Chris Donovan’s goal in the 11th minute of second half stoppage time preventing a penalty shootout.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) August 12, 2023
Curtin said on Monday that Union midfielder Dániel Gazdag is back to full fitness after a grade 1 (knee) sprain, and will “participate fully” in the match. Team captain Alejandro Bedoya should also be available after the quadriceps injury that has kept him out of the entire tournament, though not for the full 90 minutes.
Argentine forward Julián Carranza could also feature in the match, after the injury that forced him off in the 76th minute of the quarterfinal turned out to be grade 1 hamstring sprain.
“Probably won’t be from the start,” Curtin said about Carranza. “But if he’s around even to take a penalty kick or or run around for a little bit of time without the risk of further injury, we’ll see where that stands.”
Miami’s quarterfinal was much more straightforward; Inter defeated Charlotte FC 4-0, with Messi scoring his eighth goal in five games for his new club.
Messi does it again 🔥🔥
5 games straight✅
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) August 12, 2023
Fans were given a brief scare when it was reported that Messi picked up a right ankle injury in training Monday morning, but Miami head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said that it should not be an issue, and Messi traveled with Inter to Philly last night.
The newly-revamped Leagues Cup is taking place in the middle of the regular season. It pitted 47 top clubs from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico’s Liga MX in a World Cup style format of group stages then knockout rounds. The prizes include a $40 million pool and places in the Concacaf Champion Cup for the top three.
The semifinal between the two sides would have always been in Chester, since the Union hold a better MLS record than Miami. Miami is currently at the bottom of both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. Given Inter’s poor form at the time and the fact the Union had already hosted the Herons on June 24, it was a fair assumption that Messi’s first game at Subaru Park would come in 2025.
Since his arrival though, the fortunes of the David Beckham-owned team have reversed, on and off the field. Inter have remained unbeaten since the Argentine began playing, extending its Leagues Cup run. The side’s Instagram following has now eclipsed even the most popular MLB and NFL franchises. Tickets for Miami’s first road game sold out within minutes, and the prices have skyrocketed. Even Apple TV subscriptions have seen a big boost, with Inter co-owner Jorge Mas revealing that subscriptions have doubled since Messi’s arrival.
The Union, never really a team that has built itself on superstar signings, should present Messi with his toughest challenge in the U.S. so far. Subaru Park has been nearly impregnable for visiting sides, with Philadelphia only losing once since 2021. Defensively, Curtin said that one of the main ways to nullify Messi will be to cut off the service he gets from his midfield partner and fellow former Barcelona alum, Sergio Busquets.
“I think like boxing, styles make fights,” Curtin said. “It is two really unique clubs … we have built our club in a different way. It’s maybe not the glitz and glamor of Miami, but we’re more the Philadelphia blue collar and homegrown players, with really experienced international players that are a team and together.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!