The Messi Road Trip

A Travel Story about Soccer Goat Lionel Messi

I normally write about the Washington Nationals. But earlier this week, my youngest son (17) and I went on a Messi road trip to DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Drive Pink is the Cancer Charity sponsored by AutoNation). Below is a quick summary of our trip to see Lionel Messi.

The Tickets

I overpaid for three great seats on StubHub four weeks ago knowing full well that they came with no guarantee that Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, would play on Wednesday September 20. Having only taken a “staycation” in late July, I decided to roll the dice. But I should have done more research. In his second home game with Inter Miami, empty seats could be seen.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Commercial Avenue. We could see DRV PNK stadium from our fourth-floor window. A ten minute walk to the stadium from the hotel and a straight four miles to the beach. No wonder the former Barcelona star agreed to sign here! All the hotel staff were fantastic. Friendly and pleasant. The free breakfast and post-match talk with strangers the next morning was just what I needed.

The Stadium

As you might imagine, tons of pink and black.  Messi jerseys from every stop in his career.  Good loud Caribbean beats and ample food trucks outside.  A south Florida “futbol” fiesta.  Inside, there are plenty of global food options.  Some more substantial than others. Most vendors are still drinking the pink ‘Messi Kool-Aid,’ so they are a friendly bunch.  The men’s restroom caused my only complaint of the evening. But on-site trailer versions provided a much better option.     

Playoffs? Not kidding.

Although Miami have resided in last place in the Eastern conference for much of the season, just five points separates them from the eighth and ninth place teams (Montreal and NYCFC). Ninth place gets you in the postseason in MLS. Plus Miami has a game in hand with Montreal and two compared to NYCFC. It is doable, but leapfrogging five teams with Messi not 100 percent will probably keep them outside looking in.

History of Live Messi Misses

Our family history of seeing Messi live was not so great.

  • In Late March 2015, a friendly between Argentina and El Salvador. My family and another trekked to FedEx Field on an extremely windy and frigid day. Fortunately, our seats were in the sun. Unfortunately, Messi and his team’s bench were in the cold shade. Messi dressed but did not play. Argentina took care of business, 2-0.
  • Four months later in July 2015, we had another chance. But before Chelsea topped Barcelona in front of 79,000 fans, Messi (and Neymar) did not make the trip. Most fans knew this well in advance.
  • Two years later, on July 26, 2017, we saw Lionel Messi live for the first time.  Neymar, Messi, and Luis Suarez were all in the starting lineup against Manchester United for the entire first half. 
  • The summer of 2023.  When Major League Soccer announced that Lionel Messi’s signing with Inter Miami was imminent, my wife bought tickets to see DC United host Miami on July 8 at Audi Field.  I fully supported this sports hedge.  Alas, Messi did not officially sign with Inter Miami until a week later. He did not make his debut with the MLS club until July 21 in a Leagues Cup match vs Mexican side Cruz Azul.   

Ability of Availability

Historically, part of the wonder of Lionel Messi has been his ability to be available. In the two months since Messi joined Inter Miami CF, he has played in 11 matches on three different platforms: Leagues Cup, MLS regular season, and home country Argentina. That grind will hamper any athlete, even a GOAT type.

With that backdrop, trying to predict when a 36-year-old will play or not is tenuous. In a World Cup qualifier on September 7 (just nine months after winning it all) for Argentina, Messi scored a patented free-kick goal in the 78th minute against Ecuador. It was the only goal of the game. He uncharacteristically exited in the 89th minute of a game that added five minutes of stoppage time. Hmm.

Country and Club

As injury rumors gained traction, Messi did not dress for the next WC qualifier versus Bolivia. Argentina rolled 3-0 without him. Messi also did not travel to MLS team Atlanta United last Saturday and his Miami team got steamrolled 5-2.

The opponent on Wednesday was Toronto FC, one of the lesser teams in MLS. Would Messi play this match? Given that he sat out Miami’s prior home game to play for Argentina, I felt good about his chances of playing in this one. I read that Leo practiced with his team on the eve of this match looking fine and in good spirits.

Sports ecstacy enveloped the crowd when number 10 led his team out of the tunnel for warm-ups. Loud cheers from thousands already in attendance confirmed the identity of the first man on the pitch. Watching Messi and his signature darting and dashing was a sight to savor. When he scored on a practice free kick, the goalie did not move. Looking like a baseball outfielder when a slugger swats one way beyond reach, there was nothing the keeper could do. The festive and energetic crowd applauded again.

The Game

The next spine-tingling moment came when the big screen announced Miami’s starting lineup.  The roll call ended with the star striker’s image and another delirious roar from the home crowd.  Inter Miami looked silky smooth in their manly pink uniforms. 

There is just something extra about watching a legend and goat candidate who stands just five feet seven inches tall.  Full disclosure: I am one of these short people.  (Diego Armando Maradona (5’5”) was two inches SHORTER than Lionel Messi!)  Like former NBA star Spud Webb, Messi’s “slam dunk” goals might appear more gifted than a six-foot player’s goalassos.  In the case of Leo Messi, I do not think it is an optical illusion. 

Only one of Messi’s three first-half shots was on target, a sliding banger from his left and natural foot.  The highlight of his outing occurred a bit later when he anticipated and caught a splendid volley into the box.  In one motion, Messi redirected the ball about a foot over the bar with this right foot.  Oh!

And Just Like That…

Moments later Messi hunched over. Hands on knees. Oh dang. Something was not right with him.  Time froze as he casually removed his shin guards. And again, when he removed his captain’s band and secured it on the arm of previous team captain DeAndre Yedlin. A fan in front of us screamed hard, “NO!!” That summed it up perfectly. 

A thrilling-beyond-words 37 minutes ended. Robert Taylor subbed out Messi.  Ten minutes later the home team scored the first goal of the match just before half-time.  Pink fireworks soared and exploded above the pink-gray-black-and-white colored seats of DRV PNK stadium.  The unique pyrotechnics display occurred four more times: three more goals and one final victory whistle later.  Home team four.  Visitors zero. 

I’ll be seeing those pink fireworks in my dreams for a long time. I think my son will too.

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Dominic Toto

Blogging about the Nats since 2022. Nats nut since 2004. Once hit a batting practice ball that cleared the infield dirt at Nationals Park. On a fly.

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