CHESTER, Pa. ― Chances are, there usually aren’t television news helicopters circling Subaru Park three hours before a typical Philadelphia Union game.
The tailgate lots and pregame festivities aren’t usually this packed, either, at least not for a Tuesday night match.
But most matches don’t involve Lionel Messi.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said Darren Dragish of Downingtown, located 28 miles north of the soccer stadium in the Philly suburb. Dragish left work at 2 p.m. local time to kick a ball around with his kids and fellow fans before the Union’s League Cup semifinal match against Inter Miami and one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
The only reason pink No. 10 jerseys weren’t the most popular shirt visible leading up to the game was because enough people also wore Messi’s Argentina No. 10 jerseys. Or his FC Barcelona No. 10 jerseys.
There’s no doubt the star power of Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and reigning World Cup champion, drew the vibrant and raucous crowd to the stadium. A chance to see a legend of the game sent ticket prices through the roof and brought what’s expected to be a record crowd to Subaru Park.
“We’ve seen the Union,” Dragish said, not needing to say who he and his family came to see. His 13-year-old son, Zach, was there in a pink Messi jersey.
Messi’s squad struck quickly with a goal in the fourth minute and Inter Miami built a three-goal halftime lead en route to a 4-1 win to earn a place in the Leagues Cup final. Messi scored the second goal, and one would have thought the game was being played in Fort Lauderdale with how loud the cheers were. The crowd under the Commodore Barry Bridge was split both in colors and in cheering for both sides.
And that’s no slight to the home team. The Union are a team on the rise in Major League Soccer. They’re coming off a season that came minutes short of winning the MLS Cup. They’re currently on a 15-match unbeaten streak (12-0-3, including two wins on penalty kicks in the Leagues Cup). The Union’s last home loss came against Orlando City on March 25.
But leading up to the match, everyone, including the Union organization, knew who the big draw was. As well as how much tickets were going to cost.
“I know our fans are going to show up. Please don’t sell your tickets, no matter how much money they’re offering for them. Please,” Union coach Jim Curtin said in a news conference after the matchup was set.
If fans held out till noon Tuesday to buy a ticket, a standing-room seat was available for $290 on Ticketmaster, once you included the fees. If you wanted a seat, that would cost $442. The other major ticket marketplace sites: $288 on VividSeats, $309 on StubHub and $326 on SeatGeek.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the cheapest seat that wasn’t standing-room only was $338 as of Monday. A ticket in the same section for the Union’s next match against the rival New York Red Bulls on Sept. 3 – $45.
ESPNFC posted on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter that the average ticket price of $556 would be the highest in team history.
From a tailgate about 3 hours before kickoff, Brad Erdmana and Jamie Allen said they started counting down the matches to a possible Messi matchup once the knockout stages of the Leagues Cup started. They left work around 3:30 to be there to soak in the atmosphere.
Allen, a native of Southampton, England, said the atmosphere matched that of a Premier League match. Erdmana said the hype rivaled that of the Phillies’ run to the World Series last season.
And no selling price would be enough for them.
“We’re not selling these tickets,” Erdmana said.
The Union’s home attendance record is 19,770, set last Oct. 30 when they clinched a berth in the MLS Cup Final. That number was expected to be smashed Tuesday night with Messi on the field.
Cesar Gavilanes brought his family, including five kids and all decked out in Messi jerseys, from Long Island to see Messi, a decision that wasn’t made until Monday. It was their first time seeing Messi live, and Gavilanes said he was the reason his eldest son, 11-year-old Valentin, got into playing soccer.
“It’s because he’s such a nice person, and not a showoff,” Gavilanes said.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Inter Miami vs. Philadelphia soccer match features more fans of Messi