Inter Miami manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Friday that Lionel Messi’s availability for his potential MLS debut this weekend remains up in the air.
Inter Miami is in New York preparing for Saturday’s contest against the New York Red Bulls, the team’s seventh game in just 23 days.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
“We will assess further after this evening’s training,” Martino said. “It is inevitable that we will not have him at some point.”
The 36-year-old Messi has played every minute of Miami’s past six games and looked exhausted at times in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal win at FC Cincinnati, which went the maximum 120 minutes. Messi claimed two assists and converted the opening kick in the penalty shootout victory.
The team flew straight to New York from Ohio, and had a recovery session at the hotel after arriving Thursday. It was set to have a light practice Friday at Red Bull Arena.
“This will happen at least three times this year, and next year more,” Martino said regarding the potential resting of Messi, either for an entire game or part of one. “We will have to find a solution.”
That solution won’t be easy to come by, as the veteran manager has relied heavily on Messi since his arrival. The World Cup winner has exceeded all expectations with 10 goals and three assists in eight appearances.
And with Miami at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference — 14 points adrift of the final playoff spot — Martino surely knows he’ll need to use Messi as much as possible the rest of the way.
The former Mexico national team and Barcelona coach insisted Friday he won’t be distracted by the outside noise regarding the implications of benching his superstar.
Messi-mania has resulted in the cheapest tickets for Saturday’s game at the 25,000-capacity Red Bull Arena across the Hudson River in Harrison, New Jersey, currently going for over $400 on secondary resale sites. What’s more, hundreds of fans were camped out Friday afternoon outside the team hotel, hoping to see a glimpse of their soccer hero.
“I understand the expectations the rest of the world has to watch him, and that is undeniable,” Martino said. “But I cannot act based on that, because then I would risk doing things wrong.”
Doing things wrong in this case would mean pushing Messi too much and risking injury to the star player, something that could derail any chance of a postseason run.
One thing helping Martino’s cause is that his team is a lot deeper in the midfield heading into this game than it has been in previous weeks.
Veteran Jean Mota is back healthy after the Brazilian missed nearly four months of action following a knee injury, and new young South American talents Diego Gómez and Facundo Farías are more integrated into the squad thanks to a good spell of training sprinkled in-between all of these games.
However, things won’t get any easier after this weekend. A meeting with Nashville SC looms back home in Miami on Wednesday, a rematch of the Leagues Cup final that Miami won on the road this past Sunday via penalty kicks.
Four days after that, on Sept. 3, the team will be back on the road again at LAFC, who are in second place in the Western Conference.