The Philadelphia Union host Lionel Messi and Inter Miami at Subaru Park on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the 2023 Leagues Cup, which is a competition involving Major League Soccer and Liga MX clubs played exclusively in MLS stadiums. It’s a competition lacking in competitive balance, but the stakes are high enough, with a CONCACAF Champions League berth and trophy on the line.

The Union got here by dispatching Mexico’s Queretaro in the dying moments on Friday night, going ahead 2-1 on a late goal by Conestoga and Drexel product Chris Donovan. Miami, meantime, thrashed Charlotte on the strength of having Messi and two other ex-Barcelona players in the squad.

Tickets for this game sold out in a matter of minutes, which means that if you want to see Messi in Chester, you’re going to have to pay an arm, a leg, a kidney, and possibly a gallbladder on the resale market. You might see some people griping about the Union boosting prices for this game, but context is helpful, and the Cliffs Notes is that Union season ticket holders were given the choice to opt in or opt out for the Leagues Cup games. If you opted IN, you got your regular seats at regular price. If you opted OUT, you were given a two-hour window on Sunday afternoon to buy tickets at a 30% discount (still expensive obviously). And if you were a non-season ticket holder, you likely waited in line for 6 minutes before running into a brick wall and realizing everything was gone.

As such, there was the suggestion that this game be moved to Lincoln Financial Field. Some of the arguments in support of that take were:

  • more fans get in, better environment
  • Union sell more tickets, make more money, flip the $$$ into something useful
  • makes the game feel bigger by playing it in the Eagles’ stadium, in the city proper
  • opens the door for casuals to get a taste, helps the Union make inroads with the 4 for 4 crowd

Fair enough on those points, and for the record, there was no indication that Lincoln Financial Field was ever seriously considered, but to answer the hypothetical, here’s my list of arguments against moving the game to the Linc:

  1. The Union play REALLY well at Subaru Park and you absolutely cannot mess with a good thing. They’ve played every Leagues Cup game at the Soob and are 8-1-2 there in regular season MLS play. They were 12-0-5 at Subaru last year in the regular season and losses in Chester are uber-rare.
  2. Add another 40k tickets to the game and you risk additional Messi fanboys buying them up, which compromises competitive advantage and further minimizes pro-Union support in the stadium.
  3. These guys have never played at the Linc. The grass surfaces are mostly the same (it’s the Tahoma 31 mixed Bermuda stuff), but you’ve got varying dimensions, different margins on the edges, and just a different feel in general.
  4. It would have been a really short turnaround to get STH into comparable positions in a different location. Where are the Sons of Ben sitting? How are season ticket holders deployed? Lots of logistical stuff to figure out in a short amount of time.
  5. You don’t have the familiarity of the Subaru Park locker rooms, medical setup, family areas, all of the regular comforts.
  6. It’s a slap in the face to Chester if we’re being honest. What’s the point of Subaru Park if big games aren’t going to be played there?

Beyond all of that, playing at the Linc would be a bush league move from an optics perspective. You’re moving the game because the opposing team has a really popular player? Fuck all of that. No special treatment because Lionel Messi is coming to town. Imagine Phillies fans arguing to move out of CBP for a series because Shohei Ohtani is visiting. We’d have to pull Angelo Cataldi out of retirement to rightfully excoriate that suggestion (not a perfect comparison, mind you, but the best parallel I can come up with).

The overarching idea is that you have to give yourself the best competitive advantage possible, and that takes place at Subaru Park. Sure, there might be a lot of Union fans that sell their tickets anyway, but if they cash out at 400% profit so be it. That’s their decision to live with. Keeping it in Chester protects that enclave of diehard support and at least limits the Lionel Messi cash grab damage of pushing 40k extra tickets on the market. Don’t get me wrong, 65k at the Linc on a Tuesday would be incredible, but you just can’t guarantee that the extra seats are going to be filled up with enough local support. If 25k are casuals or Messi fans who don’t give a shit about the Union, then all you’re really doing is skewing the ratio further than what it likely will be in Chester. 50/50? 60/40? Maybe worse? I could see hosting Messi at the Linc for a regular season game in May, but this is a tournament semifinal with ramifications. You just can’t do this when the stakes are high.

Let Messi have the traditional Union visitor experience. You go to Chester. You get the shitty visitor locker rooms and walk out underneath the Sons of Ben and Keystone State Ultras. No special concessions for Leo or anyone else. You get nothing, good day sir. Doop.