It was a long-awaited moment for Inter Miami fans as Lionel Messi made his return to the pitch after missing five of the past six games due to a hamstring injury. However, his comeback was met with disappointment as Miami suffered a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati, resulting in their elimination from MLS postseason contention. Messi’s limited playing time and lack of rhythm were evident, making his presence on the field questionable for the rest of the season.
Messi’s performance in the match against FC Cincinnati was far from his usual brilliance. Playing as a substitute, he only contributed during two free-kick attempts, both of which missed the target by a wide margin. Coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino acknowledged Messi’s lack of playing time and decided to limit his participation to just 35 minutes. Despite his injury being healed, Messi’s rhythm was not at its best, and this affected his overall performance.
Messi’s injury occurred while on international duty with Argentina, which ultimately proved fatal to Inter Miami’s playoff hopes. As he departs for World Cup qualifying duty, Miami is left wondering if Messi will return to the squad for their final games. While he is expected to miss their next game against Charlotte FC, there is a possibility of his presence in the rematch. However, with Miami’s playoff hopes dashed, it raises questions about the decision to play Messi when his health is not optimal.
Coach Martino remains determined to make the most of Inter Miami’s remaining games, despite their elimination from postseason contention. He sees these games as an opportunity to assess the team’s performance and make better decisions for the upcoming season. While the playoffs are no longer a possibility, Martino emphasizes the importance of gaining valuable insights and building a stronger team for the future.
Since joining Inter Miami, Messi has made a significant impact on the team’s performance. In the 13 matches he played, he scored 11 goals, and Miami had a win-loss-draw record of 8-1-4 with him on the field. This includes their triumphant run in the Leagues Cup and a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. In contrast, Miami struggled without Messi, with a record of 1-3-2 in the six matches he missed. His absence was felt, and it highlighted the team’s reliance on his talent and contribution.
Inter Miami’s loss to FC Cincinnati, coupled with wins by other teams higher up in the table, sealed their fate of missing out on the playoffs. Despite the disappointment, Coach Martino expressed satisfaction with the progress his team made throughout the season. He highlighted the achievement of winning a title, something only two out of the 28 teams managed to do, and the unexpected possibility of playoffs three months ago. Despite the early elimination, Martino remains positive about the team’s competitiveness and their preparation for the upcoming seasons.
In the match against FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami had several near misses, hitting the woodwork three times in the first 24 minutes. Miami’s goalkeeper, Drake Callender, played a crucial role in keeping the team in the contest with his excellent saves. Although Miami failed to secure a win, their attacking efforts and Callender’s outstanding performance were positive aspects of an otherwise disappointing result.
It was an unusual sight to see Messi not joining his teammates in the pregame warm-ups. Instead, he made his way to the bench just before the start of the national anthem. Even during halftime and the end of the first half, he did not warm up with the other Miami substitutes. However, he did eventually get off his seat at the beginning of the second half to warm up in front of the subdued La Familia supporters’ group section. Messi’s behavior raised questions about his level of engagement and focus during the match.
Miami’s most fervent supporters had initially planned to boycott the match due to the higher season ticket renewal prices for 2024. However, after a meeting with the team, they agreed to attend without flags or instruments. While they mostly adhered to their agreement, a couple of flags were still waved, and intermittent drumming was heard throughout the match. Despite the protest, the atmosphere lacked its usual energy, adding to the overall dampened mood of the match.
Lionel Messi’s return to the field for Inter Miami was filled with mixed emotions. While his comeback brought hope to the team and fans, his limited playing time and lack of rhythm hindered his impact on the match. The disappointing loss to FC Cincinnati resulted in Miami’s elimination from the playoffs. However, Coach Martino remains focused on using the remaining games to assess the team and make improvements for the future. Messi’s absence and subsequent return demonstrated his importance to the team’s performance. Despite the unsatisfying end to the season, Inter Miami can take pride in their accomplishments and their preparation for the upcoming seasons.