Inter Miami heads into Sunday’s Florida derby against Orlando City with its Major League Soccer playoff destiny in its own hands but without star performer Lionel Messi.
Messi and his former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba both limped out of the first half of Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Toronto and were immediately ruled out of the Orlando game by coach Tata Martino.
On Friday, Martino confirmed that Messi is coping with some old “scars” while Alba has “muscle fatigue”.
Martino said that while Messi’s problem is not serious, he cannot “play freely” in his current condition.
“It’s bothers him. I don’t know if it hurts. I can’t really explain as it’s more a medical topic,” said the Argentine coach.
Miami already won the Leagues Cup since Messi’s arrival, the club has a US Open Cup final against Houston on Wednesday and will hope to have the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner back for that game.
But without Messi, Finnish winger Robert Taylor made the most of his opportunity, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Toronto.
The victory, along with other results going Miami’s way, boosted the team’s playoff hopes with six matches remaining in the regular season.
Put simply, if Miami, with games in hand, wins all six matches, it will earn a place in the playoffs, regardless of how teams above them perform.
Orlando City still smarts from a 3-1 loss to Miami in the League Cup when coach Oscar Pareja blasted the refereeing, saying the game, Messi’s third with Miami, had been a “circus”.
Orlando, second in the East, is one of four teams in the conference to have secured a playoff berth, along with Columbus, Philadelphia and leaders Cincinnati.
Cincinnati rewarded Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta with a new contract on Friday, tying him to the team until 2026 with an option for a further year.
The 29-year-old has 14 goals and 11 assists this season as the Ohio club is in a strong position to win the Supporters Shield for the best MLS regular-season record.
“He’s capable of things that others aren’t,” said head coach Pat Noonan.
“When you find players like that and you’re able to keep them on your team, it’s positioning us to hopefully continue these successes as we move forward.”
Cincinnati will host Charlotte on Saturday with the North Carolina team needing to turn promising performances into wins to make the post-season.
MLS newcomer St. Louis City has already exceeded expectations by securing a playoff spot in its maiden season but is in no mood to rest on its laurels.
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