LOS ANGELES — The buzz began more than 30 minutes before kickoff when the best soccer player in the world led his team on to the field for warm-ups to the flash of hundreds of cellphone cameras.
The Lionel Messi Show had arrived in Los Angeles.
The anticipation continued to build during the pregame introductions, when Messi’s name was met with a roar. And when the game started, the crowd reacted each time he touched the ball.
Part circus and part cultural phenomenon, Messi’s MLS Tour stop at BMO Stadium was the most-hyped game in LAFC history, with the team issuing approximately 350 credentials to media from around the world, about the same number the league handed out for last fall’s epic MLS Cup final at the same venue.
This time the result was different, with Messi contributing assists on the final two goals of a 3-1 victory that left Inter Miami unbeaten in 11 games since the Argentine joined the team six weeks ago. The loss was the second in a row for LAFC, the reigning league champion, which has won just twice in its last nine MLS games to fall to third in the Western Conference table.
For the paying customers in the stadium-record soccer crowd of 22,921 — a number buoyed by several hundred standing-room only tickets — the get-in price for a seat on the secondary market was an MLS-record $894, according to the online marketplace TickPick. Three pitch-side seats sold for $2,339 each, about the price of a Panama Canal cruise.
This being Hollywood, the stadium was also chock full of celebrities, from actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Ed Norton and Jason Sudeikis and Dodgers Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw to Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and British royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
And there was little doubt who they came to see: With the exception of the north end, which was a solid sea of LAFC black and gold, the grandstands were dotted with fans in pink Inter Miami jerseys or the blue-and-white striped shirts of Messi’s Argentina. Vendors did a brisk business selling both outside the stadium.
In the 73rd minute, a young fan in a No. 10 Barcelona jersey, jumped out of the south grandstand and sprinted to midfield, stepping around a half-hearted block from LAFC’s Aaron Long to wrap Messi in a hug. The fan was quickly separated from the player and escorted from the field.
Víctor de la Paz, who remained in his seat, made the trip from Sacramento with his daughter Alexia. He said he’s been waiting to see Messi in person since his daughter was born and paid more than $1,000 a ticket for the privilege.
“He’s like family,” De la Paz said of Messi in Spanish. “He’s a [good] example. A big influence.”
Which is why Alexis wears Messi’s No. 10 and, like Messi, captains her high school team.
A friend of Alexis Escobar, an Argentine-born Angeleno, bought two tickets for the game before Messi signed with Inter Miami, then sold them to Escobar for $24 so he could bring his father to see Messi play live for the first time.
They weren’t disappointed, with Inter Miami breaking on top in the 15th minute on a goal that came from the only two Argentine starters not named Messi, 21-year-old Facundo Farías and 19-year-old Tomás Avilés. Farías, making just his second MLS start, chased a Farías rolling pass into the box and though he appeared to lose his footing just as he got to the ball, he managed to push a shot across the goalmouth, off the far post and in for the score.
Messi, meanwhile, got his only good look of the first half in the 38th minute, ending a give-and-go with Diego Gómez with a left-footed shot from the center of the box that LAFC keeper John McCarthy batted away. He got on the scoresheet six minutes into the second half, though, splitting the LAFC defense with a diagonal through ball that found former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba crossing into the box alone. Alba’s left-footed finish beat McCarthy cleanly.
Messi then led a breakaway in the 83rd minute before sending the ball on for Leonardo Campana, who scored with a left-footed shot into the bottom left corner for Miami’s final score. The assist was Messi’s eighth, to go with 11 goals in 11 games in all competition.
LAFC (11-8-7) finally got on the board in the 90th minute, with Ryan Hollingshead nodding in a Carlos Vela corner. That ended keeper Drake Callender’s bid for a third straight shutout for Inter Miami (7-14-4).
(Staff writer Eduard Cauich contributed to this story.)