Crowd of 70,000 expected at Arrowhead Stadium for Messi, Inter Miami vs. Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes first scouted Lionel Messi nearly 20 years ago, when the Argentine phenom was a teenager and Vermes was an assistant coach for the U.S. Under-20 team.

Both teams were in the same group at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands and Vermes was tasked with seeing why there was so much buzz around this Messi kid. He found out. Argentina won that tournament and Messi, then 17, was the top scorer with six goals.

Saturday night, Messi and his Inter Miami teammates will play Vermes’ Sporting KC in front an expected crowd of 70,000 at Arrowhead Stadium. Sporting usually plays at 18,400-seat Children’s Mercy Park, but the game was moved to Arrowhead because Messi is such a big draw.

It is unknown how much Messi will play because Inter Miami is coming off an emotionally draining 3-1 Champions Cup quarterfinal loss against Monterrey in Mexico on Wednesday night. He played 45 minutes and scored a goal as a substitute against Colorado last Saturday after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury.

No matter how much he plays, Vermes knows the challenge his team faces.

“I’ve petitioned FIFA to see if I can put 15 guys in the field,” Vermes quipped on Thursday at his pregame news conference.

Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) controls the ball in the as <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Colorado Rapids;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Colorado Rapids</a> forward <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kimani Stewart-Baynes;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kimani Stewart-Baynes</a> (27) defends second half of an MLS match at Chase Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. David Santiago/

Asked how his team might contain Messi, Vermes said:

“I’ve been very clear on this. I’ve watched the guy play since he was very young. I don’t know anybody, I don’t know any team, any coach that’s ever devised a game plan that that has nullified his unbelievable and unique qualities. And so, you hope that on the day he has a bad day. You hope if he gets a chance, he misses. That’s what you do, and you try to deny service to him as much as possible.

“But if you think you’re going to play man to man or play a low block or a high block or whatever, it’s all been tried. And it’s been tried by some really, really good teams over the years and he has destroyed those teams. So, like I said, we have to be clear in what we do, and we have to be very alert and I’m not just talking about the first ball but the second run, the third run they have a lot of movement off the ball.”

Vermes admitted that yes, even as a seasoned coach, he still has moments when he shakes his head because he is mesmerized by Messi.

“Everyone does,” he said. “Pep [Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach] had him, he would do that. I mean, everyone does it. It’s just because you don’t see the things that he does, either never or not very often, that’s for sure.”

Vermes said there isn’t just one trait that makes Messi special.

Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) prepares to take a corner kick in the second half of an MLS match against Colorado Rapids at Chase Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. David Santiago/
Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) prepares to take a corner kick in the second half of an MLS match against Colorado Rapids at Chase Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. David Santiago/

“Some guys have a couple qualities that are good; he has every one of them and there’s not one thing that he doesn’t do well…his vision, his intellect, his IQ,” Vermes said. “Really top-level players have like 150, 160 Soccer IQ. He has 300. That’s the difference.”

Kansas City center back Andreu Fontas is from Spain and was a Barcelona teammate of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba. He played against Luis Suarez, as well, when Fontas was with Celta. He knows well what to expect on Saturday.

“It is better for sure to be his teammate than his rival,” Fontas said of Messi.

“For me, he’s the best player in history, so it will be special to play against him again,” Fontas said. “We will try to do our best to not let him have his game because we know he needs very few chances to punish you. We need a collective job to stop him and not allow him to be happy in the field.”

Although Miami’s defense has been shaky this season, Vermes considers Miami a dangerous opponent because of its attack.

“You get some chances against them, but they’re going to get some chances against you, and most of the time they actually finish them,” he said.

Miami is 3-2-3 heading into the game and in third place in the East. Kansas City is 2-1-4 and in seventh place in the West. But this is not just another league game, Vermes said.

“Yes, it’s a league game, but I can’t be naïve, it’s a privilege for a lot of the guys to be able to play against the best player in the world,” he said. “So, there’s going to be something there when the whistle blows.

“In 2010, we played Manchester United, probably one of the most famous teams in the world in the same stadium. And we got 54,000 people, whatever it was, and it was a monumental moment for soccer in Kansas City. But now you’re talking about two MLS teams, it’s not it’s not a team from a foreign country coming in. It’s two MLS teams playing a game and the stadium is going be sold out at 70,000. It says a lot about the growth of our game in this country.”

And, about the Messi effect.

How to Watch

The Inter Miami vs Kansas City game is at 8:30 p.m. on Apple TV.