Chicago tries to lure Messi fans amid injury doubt

Lionel Messi might not be at Soldier Field on Wednesday. The Chicago Fire hope their fans are.

Mindful that 61,000 fans bought tickets for the Major League Soccer match at Soldier Field — many of them likely expecting to see the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and World Cup champion on the field for Inter Miami — the Fire are making fans an offer to show up whether Messi (leg injury) plays or not.

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The incentive: a $250 account credit “toward new memberships for the 2024 season — or a $50 account credit for anyone unable to use the new member credit — to all single-game ticket buyers who attend our match vs. Inter Miami regardless of which players are able to make an appearance on the pitch.”

“While we don’t yet know the official status of Lionel Messi’s availability for our match tomorrow, as there’s never a guarantee that an athlete will play on any given night due to several factors, we understand that many of our fans may be disappointed if they don’t get the chance to see him play,” the Fire said Tuesday in a news release.

“We realize that there will be many in attendance who are coming to a Chicago Fire match at Soldier Field for the first time, and we’re excited to welcome them to the Fire Family and give them an opportunity to become long-term fans by creating a wonderful, fan-focused atmosphere.”

It should be a record-setting crowd for Chicago; the team lists its Soldier Field record as 41,000, set in 1997. It has averaged about 14,000 fans for matches at Soldier Field this season.

Messi was on the practice field for some of Inter Miami’s workout Tuesday, though it remains unclear when or if he will play with the team again this season. Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino declined to provide any timetable regarding Messi when he spoke with reporters before the practice session.

The team — which is still trying to make the playoffs — has listed Messi as day to day for much of the past month. He barely has played in that span. Martino denied a report that circulated over the weekend saying that Messi has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

The 36-year-old Messi has missed four of Inter Miami’s past five matches, plus another for Argentina in that span because of what was first called fatigue — by both his club and country — and has evolved from there. The only game he didn’t miss during that stretch was a 37-minute appearance against Toronto on Sept. 20, and he had to leave that match before halftime because of a hamstring issue.

Messi made an appearance Monday night at the team’s stadium to promote the launch of a children’s menu bearing his name at some Hard Rock properties around the world. He was not made available for comment to most media outlets that were in attendance at the event, and no update on his injury was provided.

Inter Miami enters the week 13th in the Eastern Conference, four spots and four points out of the last playoff spot. A loss Wednesday would not eliminate Inter Miami from the playoff mix, but it would put a significant dent in the team’s postseason hopes.

After that match at Chicago, Inter Miami has three MLS games remaining — Saturday at home against Cincinnati, a rescheduled match at home against Charlotte on Oct. 18 and the finale at Charlotte on Oct. 21.

Messi has 11 goals in 12 matches with Inter Miami this season. The team is 8-0-4 when he plays; seven of those matches were on the team’s run to winning its first-ever trophy by claiming the Leagues Cup and another was in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

He has one goal in four MLS matches and has been an instant phenomenon, as would be expected — with his jersey already the best selling in the league in 2023, even though it wasn’t available for sale until mid-July.

Inter Miami is 1-2-2 in its five matches without Messi since he joined the club.

Chicago enters Wednesday 11th in the East but tied with ninth-place Montreal in points (37) and games left (three, including the Inter Miami matchup). Wednesday is a huge game for the Fire’s postseason hopes as well.

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