Miami boss defends resting Messi for Vancouver amid fan backlash

Inter Miami CF manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino defended the decision to rest Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets for the game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at BC Place, explaining that the coaching staff must prioritize the well-being of the players amid fan frustration.

“We trained yesterday. When we finished, I conferred with the coaching staff and talked with the players, and at that moment we decided that they would not form part of the team,” Martino told reporters Friday.

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“We understand the people’s frustration, especially in wanting to see these players, but it is our job as the coaching staff to make these decisions that are uncomfortable.

“We understand what these players provoke in the league and other markets, but we have to take these measures that are sometimes unpleasant for people. But they are beneficial for the players,” the manager said.

“We can’t announce with 20 days’ notice what our movements will be. We analyzed the situation on Thursday because we have three games in a week, but sometimes unfortunate things happen that don’t allow for players to participate in a certain match.”

The Vancouver Whitecaps broke the news to fans in a statement Thursday, warning not to expect Miami stars Messi, Suárez and Busquets to participate in the match at BC Place.

“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. 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,” Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster said.

The Whitecaps expect a club MLS-era record-breaking crowd Saturday — with more than 50,000 people expected to attend the match. The hosts have offered 50% off in-stadium food and drinks to combat frustration, but supporters continued to voice concerns and resentment after paying record prices for tickets.

MLS responded in a statement Friday, saying it “acknowledges fan disappointment when marquee players are unavailable for matches.”

“Each MLS club makes its own personnel and competitive decisions based on what they believe is in the best interests of the club and each player,” it added. “The league will continue to review measures regarding how clubs report player availability.”

Martino reiterated that not much more could be done from Inter Miami’s perspective on this situation given the way Major League Soccer constructed the schedule, arguing that the responsibility falls on Vancouver to see to it that fans are appeased.

“In this case, immediately after Vancouver we have two home games,” he said. “In evaluating that, we felt it was prudent that the three don’t participate in this game. They continued to train, and trained this morning and will do so again on Saturday to be prepared for Wednesday’s game.

“In the case of Busquets, it’s worth mentioning that he is the player with the most minutes this season. We needed to find a point for him to stop, or for him to have a break. We thought it was prudent that it be this game.

“It’s difficult to make a decision like this and announce it with anticipation and that’s why we get to the last-minute situations. In any case, though, I think it is the responsibility of the opponent to have a plan B, for if, for example, Leo doesn’t travel, they have to respond to their public, it’s not our responsibility. When we play as locals, and Leo sits out, we don’t announce it 20 days before.

“Maybe he doesn’t play due to an injury,” he said. “When we went to Orlando, we didn’t announce it with anticipation either. It’s the hosts that have to make decisions if these players don’t travel.”

Inter Miami will return to South Florida after facing the Whitecaps to host Atlanta United on Wednesday and St. Louis City on Saturday. For the second time this month, Miami will play three games in a seven-day period.