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Whitecaps offering free tickets to fans attending Saturday's Messi-less match

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In the wake of major disappointment among soccer fans who were hoping to see Lionel Messi play at BC Place on Saturday, the Vancouver Whitecaps are offering what seems to be a consolation prize.

In an email sent to ticketholders, the football club says anyone attending the game against Inter Miami CF will receive a free ticket to a future regular season match.

The Whitecaps previously announced food and drinks at the stadium would be 50 per cent off on Saturday.

The freebies come after Inter Miami announced it would be heading to Vancouver without the Argentine superstar, nor teammates Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets.

The Whitecaps were expecting the largest crowd since the team joined MLS, with more than 50,000 fans expected to be in attendance, largely to see Messi.

Miami is currently the top team in the Major League Soccer standings with a 9-2-4 record. Head coach Gerardo (Tata) Martino said Friday that the decision to keep Messi, Suárez and Busquets at home was based on the club's upcoming schedule, which includes three games between Saturday and the following Saturday.

“We thought it was the most prudent for them not to play this match. They have been training but they will not be available for the game," Martino said through an interpreter.

“We obviously understand the frustration of the people wanting to watch these players play. We as coaches sometimes have to make these very difficult football decisions. But we always have to keep in mind the players’ health first.”

Martino was quick to note that the artificial turf at B.C. Place did not play a role in the decision. Keeping the trio at home was all about saving them from gruelling travel and a three-hour time change, he said.

After signing a blockbuster deal with Miami last summer, Messi also missed games in Atlanta and Chicago. The Chicago Fire attempted to win over angry fans by offering a credit for the game.

On Friday, Whitecaps chief executive officer Axel Schuster said that isn't an option in Vancouver. Chicago is an Eastern Conference team that will get another visit from Messi and Miami soon, he said, while the 'Caps can't make the same promise.

Saturday's email to ticketholders specifies that fans in attendance will receive a complimentary ticket for an upcoming 2024 regular season match. The way the MLS schedule is currently set up, the earliest Miami could visit Vancouver again during the regular season would be in 2026.

The Whitecaps promised "additional details" on the free ticket offer would be sent via email next week.

With files from The Canadian Press 

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