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Lionel Messi is injured again, but is it time to start worrying about Inter Miami superstar’s availability?

Inter Miami are on to the last eight of the Concacaf Champions Cup with a shot at making the Club World Cup after defeating Nashville SC but all eyes are on Lionel Messi who was withdrawn from their victory on Wednesday in only the 50th minute of play. His replacement, Robert Taylor, would score a goal putting the game out of reach, but after seeing the electricity of Messi alongside Luis Suarez (nine goals and seven assists in only six matches), the withdrawal makes you wonder how much they’ll be on the pitch together this season.

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Messi missed out on the squad in Inter Miami’s first loss of the season to CF Montreal just last week but the team did show growth in his absence. That growth only matters so much when it doesn’t include points though as Messi and Suarez have been able to bail Miami out of poor performances to salvage results. After the match against against Montreal, Tata Martino stated that Messi would have been able to play if needed but considering that it was an MLS match with Concacaf Champions Cup play incoming, Messi thought that it would be a good time to rest.

That checks out as Messi is 36 and him playing every game in every competition is an unrealistic expectation but being withdrawn yet again is where concern rises.

“He is overloaded on the right [leg]. We don’t want to run a risk,” Martino said in his post-match availability following the Nashville match. “We tried to see if he could go for a little longer, but it was bothering him … I imagine that for Saturday’s game (at D.C. United), he is not going to be available.”

Already ruling Messi out for the D.C. game and pulling him from a match that was still competitive shows that this is more than a precaution. Even with Messi missing out on the trip to the district, this is an injury that doesn’t seem like it will go away anytime soon. Messi will likely be on international duty with Argentina for matches on March 22 and 26, and Miami has league play on March 30 before returning to Conacacaf Champions Cup play in April.

With the games coming thick and fast, there’s no way for Messi to get an extended rest while also going on international duty and he has even been invited to take part in the Olympics squad. While it’s not confirmed that he’ll accept that invite, league play, Champions Cup, Leagues Cup, and Copa America alone is a dizzying summer for Messi. While the Herons are in the running for the Supporters’ Shield, that isn’t something that they’ll be able to pursue without pushing Messi to his limits.

The Argentine already missed six of the final 10 games of the season last season due to a leg injury that he couldn’t shake and he seemingly has another one now. Without a lengthy break that he doesn’t seem likely to get due to all of his commitments, it makes sense why Miami are prioritizing the Champions Cup as we could end up in another scenario where Messi is shut down again. As things stand, this isn’t a team set up to win trophies without Messi although that could change with additions down the line.

MLS could be decoupling the Designated Player and u-22 initiative rules during the summer transfer window, according to The Athletic, which directly benefits Inter Miami because they could then bolster the team to compete without Messi. We already know what the Herons can do with the Argentine on the pitch but planning for maximizing minutes without him and building for the future will be what determines if Messi’s arrival in Fort Lauderdale is a complete success.

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