Lionel Messi before an Inter Miami match
Lionel Messi hasn't played in Inter Miami's last matches AFP

Lionel Messi's arrival at Inter Miami not only launched the team to global notoriety, it also gave it a taste of something that had been elusive until then: success. The Argentine star has so far played 12 matches with the team, notching eight wins and four ties, most of which contributed to winning the Leagues Cup, Inter Miami's first-ever trophy.

But in early November, during a 2026 World Cup qualifier match with Argentina, Messi suffered a relapse of an injury in his right leg, something that has kept him from taking the pitch ever since. It has also prevented Inter Miami from advancing toward one of its goals since his arrival: leave the bottom of the Eastern Conference and qualify for the playoffs.

One win, two ties and two losses (the latest being a 4-1 defeat against Chicago Fire) since his injury have kept the team in the 14th position, five points away from the last spot that guarantees a ticket to the postseason. There are only three games left, meaning nine points in contention and practically no margin of error to avoid a longer off-season.

"Barcelona have missed him, PSG have too and also the Argentine national team back then. Why wouldn't we miss him?" said coach Eduardo "Tata" Martino after the defeat at Soldier Field.

However, Martino struck a more hopeful tone about the near future: "Leo is closer to playing again," he said, without elaborating. "We'll see how he is tomorrow (on Thursday) and Friday to see if he's fit What's important is that he is leaving it behind, going back to full form. He's been training very well. We'll see what's best," he added.

But even if Messi is able to go back to 100%, his packed schedule is also conspiring against Inter Miami's hopes. After Saturday's match against Cincinnati FC, the Argentine will travel to South America for another round of World Cup qualifier matches. The first one will take place at home on Thursday, October 12, against Paraguay, while the second one will see the Selección travel to Perú for the October 17 matchday. The Problem is that Inter Miami is supposed to play a potentially key match against Charlotte FC on October 18, and Messi, ever-reluctant to miss a minute of play with the national team, would have to miss the Peru match to make it on time.

Martino is aware his team needs to find a way to improve if it wants to aspire to the post-season: Our chances are fading away," he said after the latest defeat. "It's no longer only up to our results. We might have a shot if other results go our way, but the problem today is not only about the rivals. We also need to win three games and do so at a time when our performance is at its worst level."

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