Lionel Messi sits out third straight game for Inter Miami

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That’s how it goes for Inter Miami when it comes to the injured Lionel Messi: the team says he might play, and then he doesn’t.

That pattern held true again on Saturday, when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was scratched from the matchday squad for the matchup against New York City FC – a game that has important Major League Soccer playoff implications for both clubs. Messi has a leg injury, the severity of which Inter Miami did not disclose.

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The team announced that Messi would not play about 45 minutes before Saturday’s game.

The 36-year-old superstar has now missed Inter Miami’s last three matches and four of his last five, and another for Argentina in that span, due to what was initially called fatigue — both for his club and country — and has evolved from there. The only game he didn’t miss during that stretch was a 37-minute appearance against Toronto in September. 20, and had to leave that match before halftime because of what the team said was a leg injury related to an old scar tissue problem.

Inter Miami entered Saturday’s absence five points behind NYCFC with two games in hand. It still controls its playoff destiny, trying to make a push for one of the nine playoff spots outside the Eastern Conference.

The team will have just four MLS games remaining after Saturday. And for them Messi’s status remains a mystery, even as some fans pay hundreds of dollars – or more – to attend a match in hopes of seeing him play.

Many fans on social media reacted to the team’s post with outrage over the lack of clarity about Messi’s status. A post previewing the NYCFC match, sent around midday Saturday, read, “Post the squad and don’t fool your own fans. Shame on you” and “Can you come clean about what’s going on with Messi.”

Messi’s status has not been the only topic of discussion around the team in recent days. Inter Miami sent out season-ticket renewal notices this week, with big price increases in every category for next season.

In 2024, the section where Inter Miami’s most passionate fans stand, chant for the entire match and cover the banner is set to increase by 82% (from $485 to $884), while some seats near midfield will cost 98% more (from $1,333 to $2,635) compared to this year’s published prices in some categories, and other fans were told to expect an increase of more than 100% from what they were paying.

The most expensive season ticket at the top of next season has a published price of $40,000, and that’s not even for suites.

It was certainly expected that prices would rise; Messi’s two-and-a-half-year deal will pay him an average of more than $50 million annually, and that doesn’t even take into account what Inter Miami has spent on its two other big midfield acquisitions this year: Jordi Alba (who is sidelined with injury ) and Sergio Busquets.

But it’s also clear that the team is already enjoying revenue streams like never before. MLS revealed on Friday that Messi’s jersey is – not surprisingly – the league’s top seller this season.

That data represents all sales on the site since January 1, and Messi wasn’t even with Inter Miami until July. It also doesn’t include anything sold by the team themselves.

Messi scored 11 goals in 12 matches for Inter Miami this season. The team went 8-0-4 when he played; Seven of those matches were in the team’s run to win the trophy for the first time by claiming the League Cup — the irony of that run being that it raised concerns about how much Messi was asked to play in a relatively short time after joining his new club. He has appeared in four MLS matches and one US Open Cup semifinal.

The team entered Saturday 1-2-1 in its four games without Messi since signing the legend. During that time, Inter Miami outscored opponents 29-12 when Messi was on the field, 12-10 when he wasn’t.

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