Lionel Messi returns but Miami loss ends MLS playoff hopes

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After missing five of the past six games with a hamstring injury, Lionel Messi returned to action Saturday, playing 35 minutes off the bench in a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati that eliminated Inter Miami from MLS postseason contention.

Messi’s only real contribution came when he fired two free kicks — one in the 58th minute, the other in stoppage time — over the Cincinnati goalkeeper. Roman Celentanoits crossbar.

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Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said, “His injury is healed, but his rhythm was not right. He didn’t play much, so I only played him for 35 minutes”.

The 36-year-old Argentine legend — who played more centrally in this game than the previous one for Inter Miami — had managed just 37 minutes in one appearance in the last six games coming into Saturday, with Miami winning just once despite Messi’s absence.

Messi will leave for World Cup qualifiers with Argentina in the coming days. The World Cup champions have a home game against Paraguay on Thursday before traveling to Peru in October. 17.

It was while on international duty that Messi suffered injuries that ultimately proved fatal to Miami’s playoff hopes.

He will miss Miami’s next game on Oct. 18, a rescheduled contest with Charlotte FC, but could return to the team three days later for a rematch at North Carolina on the final day of the regular season.

However, with Miami playing for more than pride now and Messi’s health less than ideal, there are questions as to whether Messi will wear pink again this season.

Martino said he won’t let the final two races go to waste.

“The assessment we can make in these remaining games is very important to make the best decisions for next year,” he said.

Messi scored 11 goals in 13 matches for Inter Miami. He is 8-1-4 when he plays; Seven of those matches were in the run to the team’s first trophy, claiming the League Cup, and the other was in the semi-finals of the US Open Cup. Inter Miami is 1-3-2 in six games without Messi since joining the club.

Saturday’s loss, along with several wins over Miami in the table, leaves the South Florida team seven points out of the final playoff spot with just two games remaining.

“I’m satisfied with the work we did,” said Martino, who was upbeat in the post-match press conference despite his team’s elimination.

“I always thought from the moment I took over the team that these six months were going to shape the team a bit, to prepare it for 2024.

“We were able to win a title, 26 out of 28 teams won’t do anything this season, and we had a chance to go to the playoffs, which was unthinkable three months ago, so I’m happy with how we competed.”

In a matchup with the league’s best team and already crowned Supporters’ Shield winners at a rain-soaked DRV PNK Stadium, Miami hit the woodwork three times in the first 24 minutes of an entertaining first half. Goalkeeper Drake Calender made several excellent saves throughout the game to keep his side in the contest.

In an unusual move, Messi did not join the rest of his teammates in the 18-man squad for the pregame warm-up. Instead, he emerged from the tunnel and took his seat on the bench just before the national anthem began.

He also didn’t line up with the rest of the Miami substitutes late in the first half or at halftime, but ultimately couldn’t get off his seat in the opening moments of the second half in front of the crowd. the family Supporters group category.

Most of Miami’s most ardent fans have kept their word regarding their planned protest of high ticket renewal prices for the 2024 season.

After initially saying they would boycott the match completely, they agreed to attend the game after a meeting with the team, but without flags or instruments.

They didn’t quite stick to their word, with only a few flags and drumming at times during the 90 minutes that Miami’s memorable season ended on a somber note.

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