On Wednesday, Inter Miami will face Toronto FC at DRV PNK stadium but will Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba feature? This has been a growing question since Tata Martio left the duo out of the away loss to Atlanta United. Muscular fatigue was the reason giving but even with Martino mentioning that they participated in training this week, he was coy about their upcoming availability despite the Herons having a chance to make MLS playoffs.
“Messi and [Jordi] Alba will train in the full session today with the team, and after that, we’ll see if they’re available to play and to what extent,” Martino said on Tuesday, according to ESPN. “Beginning on Wednesday, we have six matches in 18 days, which is one match every three days, including the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.”
With a chance to win a second title this season along with Leagues Cup, it does bring into question how important league play is to Martino. Sure, he can’t outright say that he’s prioritizing the cups over MLS, but he’s coming as close as he possibly can. With Miami advancing so far into Leagues Cup and the U.S. Open Cup, they’ve basically played three games a week for close to two months now and have already locked up Concacaf Champions Cup qualification.
Add in Messi also representing Argentina during the international break and travel in MLS being much more involved than European travel, and it makes sense that Martino needs to protect his players ahead of a long run to close the season. It’s of the utmost importance to have a fresh and healthy team to face Houston on Sept. 27 live on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+. The Herons have to face Toronto and Orlando City before even getting to that game which is why Martino has to figure out the task of which games can be won without Messi.
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Toronto are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and Martino’s comments following the loss to Atlanta United were telling of how he may treat the remainder of the MLS season.
“It’s very tempting to play for a title. Right now we have seven to eight [MLS] games left,” Martino said after the match. “And the reality is that it’s not a guarantee we’ll make the playoffs. It doesn’t mean we won’t go for it, but it’s true that we’re focused on the 27th.”
That doesn’t sound like a manager willing to risk his stars in three games over eight days.
If Messi can’t go who replaces him?
This is where Martino has to be careful. Against Sporting Kansas City, without Messi, Facundo Farias and Leonardo Campana were able to carry the load but that wasn’t enough against Atlanta United. Part of that is that the Five Stripes have a better roster than SKC but also this is where Alba’s absence showed. Without Messi, when Alba features, there is still an outlet for Farias or other midfielders to dump off to and someone else who can deliver a devastating cross into the box for Campana to drive into the net.
The injury to Diego Gomez while on international duty with Paraguay has also hurt the Herons’ depth. He missed the end of World Cup qualifying and also missed the Atlanta match with that tight injury. There’s no timetable for his return but Gomez is another player who will instantly improve the Herons although even with a skeleton roster, that may be enough to get by a struggling Toronto FC team.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Wednesday, Sept. 20 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- Location: DRV PNK Stadium — Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- TV: None | Live stream: MLS Season Pass
- Odds: Inter Miami -265; Draw +390; Toronto FC +650
Miami will struggle to find their bearings yet again without Messi but Campana will lead them to score yet again in a come-from-behind victory. Score: Inter Miami 3, Toronto FC 2