Mercedes-Benz Stadium Won’t Install Grass for Leo

At least one MLS team isn’t making field accommodations when Lionel Messi comes to town.

Inter Miami CF’s newest star does not play on artificial turf, and Atlanta United FC, one of six Major League Soccer clubs that plays on synthetic grass, has no plans to install a natural-grass pitch when the Argentine star comes to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 16. Inter Miami, coached by former United manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, must deal with the normal field conditions, as the downtown venue has never installed grass in its six-year history.

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“You can ask [Martino], he is familiar with the quality of our turf,” Garth Lagerwey, the president and CEO of Atlanta United, said ahead of the MLS All-Star game in Washington, D.C. “He can explain to his players how good and safe it is to play at our stadium.”

The club also pointed out that the playing surface has achieved the highest FIFA certification, FIFA Pro.

Messi, who has never played on artificial turf, might not play if the field isn’t changed. Regardless of the surface, there have been questions about how much the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will play. Inter Miami’s upcoming opponents nevertheless are preparing for a spike in fan demand, with plans for various enhancements from temporary seating expansions to increased ticket prices.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said earlier this week that the six stadiums without real grass—Gillette Stadium (New England Revolution), Providence Park (Portland Timbers), Lumen Field (Sounders FC), Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte FC), BC Place (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Mercedes-Benz Stadium—are free to make changes as they see fit to accommodate the Argentine star.

“MLS promotes a lot of international games, and we have been able to bring natural grass into those stadiums [for those games], but we’ve never done that for a regular-season game,” Garber said.

Garber, who spoke with the media ahead of his league’s All-Star festivities, says he expects the handful of clubs will temporarily install a layer of real grass on top of the artificial turf below, even though the league is not expected to provide compensation to those teams.

“My expectations are that that’s what they will do, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to figure all of that out,” Garber said.

Messi isn’t the first international standout in MLS to favor playing on grass, but he carries more star power than any player to compete in the 30-year-old league. While Messi hasn’t said publicly that he won’t play on that surface, the type of pitch he plays is just one of several factors that needs to be addressed as prepares to suit up for owner Jorge Mas’ club.

“It has a lot more to do with more than whether [he’s] on turf or grass,” MLS deputy commissioner Gary Stevenson said in an interview. “Do they want [him] to play twice a week? Is there a tweak in the hamstring? The amount a player plays is decided between the player and his coach… Certainly that question is going to come up and we’re going to have more discussion internally on the best way to handle that.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which plans to install grass for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, has built a reputation as one of the top environments in MLS, and Atlanta United, owned by The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, leads the league in attendance regularly.

Sources say the process of installing natural grass fields at venues of that size can cost around $600,000 to $900,000. Mercedes Benz Stadium replaced its turf in 2019 to the tune of $700,000.

(This article has been corrected to clarify that there are six MLS teams playing on artificial surfaces. The Vancouver Whitecaps have been added to the list in the story.)

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