On Wednesday night in Chicago, the star No. 10 wasn't Lionel Messi, who missed the match due to injury, it was Xherdan Shaqiri. As a result, Inter Miami's playoff chances are in trouble.The Herons suffered a 4-1 defeat to the Chicago Fire in their fourth consecutive match without Messi, who has battled fatigue and a nagging knock. Shaqiri scored twice in the second half to lead the charge.
Despite Miami's desperate need to win to make a playoff push, they've now gone winless in all four matches without Messi in the lineup. Their playoff hopes are dwindling by the day. With the loss to Chicago, Miami no longer control their destiny in the Eastern Conference and they have only three games left and are five points out.
Messi has been sidelined since Sept. 20th when they faced Toronto FC due to fatigue and a hamstring injury. His status for the remainder of the season remains day-to-day, with Tata Martino keeping his cards close to his chest. Messi missed last week's U.S. Open Cup final, a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
Next up, Miami face FC Cincinnati on Saturday, who have already secured the Supporters' Shield for the highest points total during the regular season. Cincinnati have every reason to ensure that the Herons don't make it to the playoffs, especially since they could potentially face them in the second round. While Miami still have two games in hand on most of the league, they are currently five points behind CF Montreal for ninth place. If Messi is healthy, he'll be on international duty with Argentina during their last two matches of the season instead of leading Miami into the playoffs.
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It seems like Inter Miami went all-in for their first club trophy this season in winning the Leagues Cup with no other choice when the easiest trophy to win was right in front of them. Since the Leagues Cup final on Aug. 19th, the Herons have played a soccer game every 3.8 days, and it's evident in their performance. They were competitive in the first half against Chicago, but the wheels fell off in the second 45 minutes, with all four goals conceded during that time.
With a plethora of injuries, Miami's depth has been stretched to its limits, making it challenging to turn things around in just two weeks. They also need assistance from other teams, and their hopes of making the playoffs are nearly gone. It's a valuable learning experience for young players on the team like Facundo Farias and Leonardo Campana, who will have significant roles in the team next season.
The result also highlights what Martino needs to change before the next season begins. The Herons managed to assemble a team good enough to win a trophy in just a few weeks during the summer transfer window. It's almost unimaginable what they can achieve with an entire offseason at their disposal, along with limitless recruiting and new additions. Offering players the chance to play alongside Messi is a unique tool, unlike anything Major League Soccer has ever seen. This could lead to a significant improvement in the entire defense during that time, potentially transforming this edition of the Herons into an unrecognizable side come next season.