Miami blame MLS scheduling for Messi et al no-show as Martino says home clubs also need to have a “Plan B”

Miami blame MLS scheduling for Messi et al no-show as Martino says home clubs also need to have a “Plan B”

As the fallout continues from yesterday’s news that Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Sergio Busquets were not travelling to Vancouver to play in Inter Miami’s match with the Whitecaps on Saturday, fans are continuing to apportion blame for how this debacle has played out. And there a lot of blame to go around.

With the anger and the disappointment far from subsiding 24 hours down the road, a lot of the blame has been laid firmly and squarely at the doors of both Inter Miami and Major League Soccer.

Miami head coach Tata Martino confirmed today that the decision to not bring the players to Vancouver was solely based on giving them rest in the midst of a busy schedule, and the final decision to rest all three only came on Thursday afternoon just before the team were due to fly out of Florida.

While acknowledging the frustrations of Vancouver fans and the late decision to make this public, Martino is adamant that his club have done nothing wrong and that he has every right to put his players’ health first.

“Yesterday we trained, when we finished the training session we met with the technical staff and subsequently I met with the players, and at that moment we determined that they wouldn’t travel,” Martino told media in his prematch press conference on Friday. “Then we immediately traveled and this is the first opportunity that we’ve had to manifest the resolution that we came to. The reasons exclusively have to do with what we have coming this week.

“In the case of Busquets, you have to add that he’s the player with the most minutes played this season for us, so we had to find a moment to stop, so he can have a match to rest, and in his case the most prudent choice would be to rest this one in Vancouver. We understand the frustration of the people, above all else the desire to see our players, and us as the technical staff have to make these decisions that are uncomfortable, that evidently frustrate people, but fundamentally we have to think of our institution, the team, and our players. We made this decision because we believe it’s the appropriate one at this time.”

Martino makes a very strong argument. Miami are in the midst of a spell of four matches within a 15 day period from last weekend to the end of the month. Vancouver have five games in that period and have rotated their squad heavily, with far less travel than Miami. Three of those Miami matches are at home though and two of them are against Eastern Conference rivals. If you are a Miami fan, you are wanting Martino to have his players in the best shape for those games that are against teams battling you for conference positioning.

Miami take on Martino’s former club Atlanta United next Wednesday. Miami are currently sitting first in the East, Atlanta are 12th, a whopping 18 points back from the Florida side. On paper, it’s an easy win for Miami, but Martino clearly doesn’t want to take any chances with conference points on the line and wants to play his strongest side and keep his “big three” stars fresh and rested.

And therein lies one of the biggest issues, and seemingly problems, here. The MLS schedule.

Miami did not play midweek as they were not in the US Open Cup. They now have to travel six hours west to play a game before travelling six hours back to play at home midweek. As far as Martino is concerned, if you want to blame anyone for the no-showing of his star players, that blame falls firmly on the league and their lack of foresight in scheduling matches. A midweek trip to another team out west and the likelihood of Messi and the others making this trip would have increased.

“Normally when these types of trips happen, and I speak also from my experience in Atlanta, they string together matches close to each other so that the trip isn’t as tiring,” Martino added. “In this case, immediately after, we have two matches at home next week. In the evaluation of this we understand that the most prudent choice was that they not participate in this match. They’ll continue training, they trained this morning, and will train again Saturday, and that they be prepared for what is ahead next week.

“Maybe having another away match that could have been in Los Angeles or Kansas, somewhere that is closer. It’s not the same to have traveled to Montreal in a three-hour flight each way to then play against Orlando. In this case it’s 12 hours of flights, and with three hours of time difference. So these are things that we also have to attend. If it would have been in that way then probably the resolution would’ve been another, because we also have to defend our position in the standings and it’s also a matter that I’ve been mentioning particularly since the start of the year, collecting as many points possible while we have all the players available, something that will change starting next week. So, we understand that this is the resolution that’s appropriate for this moment.”

When the news first started to come out on Thursday, many were quick to label the blame on the BC Place turf, but Miami’s players have already played games on turf this season in New England and Martino was quick to dispel this, reiterating again that this is all about resting his players, looking after their health, and poor MLS scheduling.

“Only a few weeks ago we went to Boston, and both Luis [Suarez] and Leo [Messi] have participated in that match,” Martino stressed. “What the league normally does is that when there are matches in which a team has to travel a long distance, the either don’t play a midweek match, or pair up two matches in the same location or a nearby location. In this case, it wasnt the case, but it’s not a complaint, I repeat, this is something that we knew since the start of the season, we knew the schedule perfectly, and once this moment arrived we have had to take this decision.

“I don’t think it’s something strange when many teams in MLS that do exactly the same, but we understand that for us, the players that tomorrow will not be there are players that have revolutionized MLS, especially Leo, but well, we also have the obligation of taking care of the team’s health.”

Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster had wanted to let Whitecaps fans know as soon as he could that Messi and his big name teammates would not be playing on Saturday, and admitted that he had taken the unusual step of contacting an opponent to see if some of their players would be making the trip once rumours first surfaced that they may not be.

“I really want to make very clear, we have learned less than 24 hours before about the rumours that that might be a scenario,” Schuster told media on Friday. “We have immediately reached out to Miami. It is not a thing that professional teams normally to do to share too much information because the whole thing of tomorrow is a sporting competition. So you are holding back information, but the best answer we could get this that they had not made the final decision. They said that there will be training yesterday morning in Miami and after that they will make their final selection.

“And so we really learned an hour maybe two hours before we went out with our message about the definite of the fact and even at that point, it was like okay, we confirm but it’s not anything officially confirmed because it’s not what professional sports team do. But we felt like we needed to go out with this and let people know. I know so many people are traveling or booked other other things around the game so we wanted to share the information as soon as possible.”

MLS operates very differently from football around the rest of the world. In other leagues, whether Messi was travelling to play a game or not would not be expected to be made public, and certainly not shared with an opponent. The expectation for Miami to thus be doing this appears to be something that irks Martino.

“I think that the point is, in which other part of the world do teams have to communicate the absence of their players because the business dictates?,” Martino mused. “So, MLS, in this specific case, it’s very special, and I don’t think that us as the coaching staff there’s much that we can do to improve the situation, I think that no, because one thing is knowing that we have three matches in a week and the other, in the moment in which we’re getting closer to the week and the matches from the previous week in which we played three times.

“It’s about evaluating and talking with the players because we could maybe think something 15 days before but maybe once the moment arrives the players tell us that they’re doing fine, that they want to participate, it doesn’t look like they have to rest or maybe not. They are coming from being out for a long time and they are re-inserting themselves on the team and there’s no need to rest. So it’s very difficult to be able to announce a resolution like this with much time in advance and that’s why we have to wait until the last moment.”

And Martino, like many Whitecaps fans, feels teams like the Whitecaps should then have scenarios in place for such a situation like this and that the ‘Caps should have been better prepared and have brought a lot of the flak they are getting from this onto themselves.

“In that case, I think it’s the teams that are hosting us have to have a plan B in case Leo doesn’t travel,” Martino rightly asserted. “I don’t think it’s our responsibility over this. When we play at home and Leo is unable to play we don’t announce it 20 days in advance, maybe he doesn’t play because of a knock or because of an injury or for whatever reason it may be.

“We didn’t do it when we went to Orlando, he had a knock from Montreal and we didn’t announce it with a lot of time in advance, it was something that we knew was a risk, so we decided he wasn’t going to play. I think that it’s the opposite, the host teams should have some sort of precaution in the case that one of these players don’t travel.”

A lot of Whitecaps fans, and those casual fans that are attending Saturday’s match, fully agree.

Authored by: Michael McColl

There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Dave at 19:00

    Such BS. They are going to some junior tournament. Probably booked long ago. Messi most like didn’t like the long flight then the others wanted same treatment. Partial price of inflated tickets because of messi coming should be refunded. Half price tickets not half price hotdogs which I bet they still make money on and selling twice as many with the large crowd.

  2. Rick V at 20:52

    It’s nice of him to say that hosting teams need a “plan B”, but I’m just curious what that might look like. If one of these guys doesn’t make the trip, including Messi, it’s understandable, and “plan B” would be, “At least we got to watch these other guys.” But when all three are missing, it’s hard to figure out what a proper “plan B” looks like.

  3. Heather D at 00:01

    Plan B is that we get to boo Miami extra hard, especially Gressel 😜

  4. Michael McColl Author at 12:44

    While other stuff came out that this may have been in the works for a much longer time, I think Martino is right about clubs needing a Plan B for Messi not coming places.

    Chicago handled it well earlier in the season with account credits. If the ticket prices were just a bit higher, then I think it’s fair for the Whitecaps to not do anything as you are buying a ticket for a game of football that is still taking place. When you hike up the ticket prices as much as they did for this game though, then that makes it a lot murkier and is one of the biggest criticisms I feel is rightly being thrown the Whitecaps way.

  5. Donkey at 17:45

    Zlatan is the best player to ever play in MLS because he actually showed up. Anyone who bought a ticket without seeing Messi in Vancouver first is not paying attention to MLS. This is what MLS does. They schedule Vancouver into obscurity. Either directly, or in this case, indirectly. MLS is a fraudulent league. Anyone who follows or writes about the Whitecaps is wasting their time. Do what I did, remove any and all emotional involvement, and look at it for what it is, a joke! Move on everyone! Hee Haw!

  6. Harry at 12:22

    You had over 6 months to look ahead at the schedule and see if you are gonna rest them up but no you a**hole made a decision last minute after letting everyone think he might come now. Noone would have said anything if you had said it in time. Now blaming the schedule. Such a major stepback for the league.

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