The dominance of La Albiceleste was apparent from the first minute of the final group game of the Copa America Centenario. Argentina may have been slowed by traffic on I-90, but their speed and skill was on display as soon as they took to the pitch. There was no Lionel Messi in the starting XI, but it didn’t stop the 45,000-strong crowd from chanting his name at every possible moment.
Messi’s teammates -- rather than the superstar himself -- put on the real show against Bolivia, as Argentina scored three goals within the first 32 minutes of the match. Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela scored his country's first in the 13th minute when his free kick from distance deflected off the Bolivia wall and soared into the corner of the net. The onslaught continued as eventual Man of the Match Ezequiel Lavezzi scored one after Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe parried it into his path. Lavezzi then turned provider as his cross was poked in by Victor Cuesta in the 32nd minute.
Even though the score at halftime was 3-0, Argentina head coach Gerardo Martino made good on his promise that Lionel Messi would play by substituting his star into the match at the beginning of the second half. Martino said afterwards that the plan was for Messi to play 45 minutes, no matter what the score was. The actual atmosphere in CenturyLink Field was rather dull, compared to the typical Seattle Sounders match, though it was punctuated by chants of "MESSI, MESSI" every few minutes.
Aside from a few flashes of obvious brilliance (including a nutmeg of the Bolivia goalkeeper that was nullified by the offside flag), the world’s most popular soccer player didn’t have much of an effect on the match. But that didn't matter to those who paid to see the legendary player in person. This wasn’t about the result for some of these fans. For some, it wasn’t even about Copa America. It was about being in the presence of greatness, hoping to see at least a glimpse of the magic that has enthralled millions. Every time Messi touched the ball, the crowd was electrified. When they remember this match in years to come, they won't remember the result. They’ll remember the magical moment when one of the greatest players in soccer history stepped onto the pitch, their pitch, on a cool summer night in Seattle, Washington.