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The news soccer fans in Vancouver were dreading was confirmed on Thursday afternoon: there will be no Lionel Messi.

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Not only the Argentine superstar, but neither Sergio Busquets nor Luis Suarez will be playing for Inter Miami when they visit the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

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The players aren’t injured, but are being given a rest day as they prepare for two more Eastern Conference games next week, before Messi leaves to represent Argentine for the Copa America tournament.

When Messi was held out of a road game against the Chicago Fire last year, the team responded by giving a $250 account credit toward new memberships for the 2024 season, or for those who’d bought a single-game ticket, a $50 credit toward a new account.

Few other teams have followed suit. The Whitecaps have stepped forward to offer 50 per cent off all in-stadium food and beverage, and a meal voucher for any ticket holders under the age of 18.

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messi suarez busquets
Inter Miami forward Luis Suarez, left, walks with forward Lionel Messi, center, and defender Sergio Busquets, right, during a training session for the MLS soccer team in January 2024 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Photo by Rebecca Blackwell /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“While we haven’t received an official update on the availability of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Sergio Busquets for this weekend, we understand they will not make this trip.” said Whitecaps CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we have no control over who plays for our opponent, and it was important for us to communicate to our fans as soon as possible.

“We always want our best players going up against our opponent’s best players, and facing players of the highest pedigree was especially exciting for our team. We know that there will also be a lot of disappointed fans. We remain committed to making this a special experience for everyone. It is still going to be an incredible atmosphere and celebration of soccer for our city. We have amazing fans, we have a good team, and Saturday’s match is a very important home game for us.”

Soccer fans in B.C. had been eagerly awaiting Messi’s first MLS appearance in Vancouver, and more than 50,000 people were expected at Saturday’s game.

The 36-year-old Messi quickly became the face of the league when he joined Miami in a blockbuster deal last summer, and he impressed once again this season, putting up 10 goals and nine assists in 10 games.

With a file from Canadian Press

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