Messi fans revel in first SoFla game; dedicated fans support Inter Miami like always

On the north side of DRV PNK Stadium gathers La Familia. They are a group who have been supporting Inter Miami since before the team got its pink and black colors, its emblem or a name.

Then there were the people who were there simply because of their love of the sport and the cultures that love it back. And then the die-hard Lionel Messi fans. A lot of them.

On the south side of the stadium, Mohamed Aden sat at a picnic table Friday afternoon wearing Messi’s Barcelona jersey underneath a rain jacket.

His job is driving a semi-truck around the states. When he learned Messi would be playing for Inter Miami, he told his job to send him down to South Florida with a load.

Aden, 27, drove from Texas and arrived Thursday in South Florida. The some-$600 ticket he bought the minute the word came from Messi’s own mouth that he’d joined the team, Aden bought it without a care about the price tag.

And he strategically picked his seat. It’s in the front row on the left corner. He wants to see Messi running toward him.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” he said. “I cannot believe that I’m going to see Messi play today.”

Fans show their support at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale before Inter Miami's match against Cruz Azul during the Leagues Cup, Friday, July 21, 2023. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Fans show their support at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale before Inter Miami’s match against Cruz Azul during the Leagues Cup, Friday, July 21, 2023. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Hours before kickoff, fans were walking toward the stadium in Barcelona, Argentina and Inter Miami jerseys under a clouded sky, a relief from the blazing sun. In the grass lot just outside the stadium’s south entrance fans set up camp chairs. Bad Bunny played on a speaker. It smelled like flank steak grilling. The man cooking it said he was using his “special Hispanic seasonings.”  Children kicked soccer balls with the sound of music of all genres coming from different tailgaters in the background.

Karina Estrada, 29, and Martin Soriano, 29, drove from Central Florida (home of Inter Miami’s rival Orlando City SC) for the game with their 7-year-old son, Lionel.

Estrada and Soriano wore pink Inter Miami jerseys while Lionel wore Messi’s Argentina jersey. They said Friday was their first Inter Miami game.

Soriano said he admires Messi because of his humility. They both saw the pictures of Messi shopping in Publix recently, a scene drastically different from the swarm of screaming fans that follow him in other parts of the world.

“Just his humbleness,” Soriano said. “He’s not really a show off type of person.”

Lionel, their son, said he was excited. “To see him win!” he said.

Luis Cruz, 29, of Naples, was among one group of about 50 Cruz Azul fans in the grassy lot to the south of the stadium. They’ve been Cruz Azul fans “since we all remember,” he said.

He and his group of mostly family got their tickets before Messi’s announcement for $45. He said they could’ve resold them for hundreds.

“I’m looking forward to just the atmosphere,” he said. “I think the atmosphere of the game is going to be better than the actual match.”

Julio Iglesias, 41, of Miami Beach created the Messias 305 fan club, gathering over 1,000 members in a month.

Friday was his first Inter Miami game, too. The group hung a large white banner, Messi’s face spray painted in the middle between Darth Vader and Yoda. “May the force be with you,” it said.

People selling pink Messi hats, shirts and lanyards made an opportunity out of the craze.

Luis Medina, 29, of Cooper City, walked around the property for hours Friday trying to sell his lanyards.

When he heard Messi was coming, he thought strictly business. He watched the team’s Instagram followers climb into the millions. “My mind — it went money,” he said.

South Florida’s diverse central and South American and Caribbean community was on full display among the tailgaters. That’s what several of them said they loved about the affair.

Eddy Blandon, 32, of Miami Lakes, is a season ticket holder. Of Nicaraguan descent, the cultural aspect was on his mind. “It’s a melting pot … That’s what I see,” he said. “And him coming here, it’s proof of that. He’s a big figure for all of us.”

A cover of Selena’s “Como La Flor” played in the parking lot on the stadium’s north side where day-one Inter Miami fans gathered. They shook hands and hugged as people passed and mixed in with their crowd. It was clear they were mostly familiar faces.

Vice City 1896 is the largest faction of the overall group that calls itself La Familia, with four other different groups within it. They are the Inter Miami supporters who have been there from the beginning.

Their tailgating at the games is a regular event. So is their enthusiasm for the team, regardless of their record.

Vice City 1896 member Christopher Moramarco was passing out yellow wristbands to people for them to get into their general admission standing only section in the north stand, which fits about 3,000 people. His family is from Messi’s hometown.

“What we want is for people to not forget the people that were prior,” he said. “What we want is for people to understand … that this is a culture. Not just a frenzy because Messi’s here.”

The team has given Miami a source of pride, he said. It’s more than a team. “We embraced it because it embodies our heritage, our roots,” he said, “but it embodies our city.”

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