The Lionel Messi saga continues as Inter Miami get set to host New York City FC in a Major League soccer match with huge playoff implications. Miami currently sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, five points behind the 9th place cutoff for the playoffs. The team currently occupying that spot comes to town on Saturday in the form of NYCFC. A win and all of a sudden Miami look like serious contenders to slip into the postseason. But the question remains, will Messi play, or will Miami have to find a way to get the job done without him?
How to watch and odds
- Date: Saturday, Sept. 30 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- Location: DRV PNK Stadium -- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- TV: None | Live stream: MLS Season Pass
- Odds: Inter Miami +107; Draw +290; NYCFC +235
Can Miami win without Messi?
As the dust settles from Inter Miami's the loss in the U.S. Open Cup final to the Houston Dynamo, attention begins to shift towards what's next for Lionel Messi and the Miami side he joined over the summer. The Herons have already secured one trophy but fell short in another. However, with the MLS regular season nearing its end, they urgently need victories to close the five-point gap between themselves and a playoff spot. An upcoming crucial match against New York City FC could prove to be a setback for the club if they fail to secure a win.
Tata Martino has already announced that Messi's availability for the remainder of the MLS season will be a series of game-time decision. This period might be brief if Messi is deemed fit enough to represent Argentina in international duty in October. The decision is influenced by Messi's persistent fatigue and hamstring injury. Given Martino's reluctance to push Messi in a cup final when he wasn't at 100% fitness, it's unlikely he will change his approach for a league match, even if it holds significant importance. Additionally, left back Jordi Alba has been ruled out of the game due to his own hamstring issue.
"Leo will train, day-to-day decision," Inter Miami assistant coach Javier Morales said Friday. "Jordi will have a longer recovery."
If Messi isn't available, that's when the resolve of this team is truly tested. So far, they've played three full games without him, resulting in a 1-2-1 record with 10 goals allowed and nine scored. Draws won't be sufficient to secure a playoff spot because they need to eventually surpass four teams in the table in terms of points. Miami still has two games in hand on NYCFC, but that advantage won't matter much if they can't secure three points in what is a crucial playoff six-pointer.
Without Messi, the team lacks a focal point in the attack because no player has been willing to take on the responsibility of creating chances. This was evident in the Open Cup final, where Houston's experienced midfield was able to capitalize on this weakness, winning the ball back through their pressing game. Led by Santiago Rodriguez and James Sands, NYCFC is a team capable of exploiting similar weaknesses.
Given the youth on the team, progression has been rapid, but the young players have been inconsistent, which is where Martino's leadership has to come into play. If he can get Facundo Farias to pull the strings of the attack instead of second-guessing passes, this is a team that will have no issues making the playoffs even without Messi, which is why these remaining games are a major opportunity for growth.
While Messi's play is important, the young players on the team will determine how far Inter Miami can go. If they can pull the team into the playoffs even without the Argentine, it will bode quite well for their chances of running away with the league and making a deep run into the Champions Cup next season.