Lionel Messi will play his first rematch since joining Inter Miami when the Herons host Nashville SC on Wednesday night in his regular-season home debut.
Messi joined Miami (6-14-3, 21 points) last month and has already played nine times and scored 11 goals. The first seven of those appearances helped the Herons win the 2023 Leagues Cup, a tournament contested between all 47 teams in MLS and Liga MX.
Game No. 8 was a US Open Cup semifinal at Cincinnati, and No. 9 was Messi’s MLS regular season debut, a 2-0 win at the New York Red Bulls.
The Herons are unbeaten, with six 90-minute victories in those 10 fixtures. And Saturday’s win at the Red Bulls may have been the most impressive given that Messi started the game on the bench to manage his recent heavy workload.
Miami enters Wednesday in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points beneath the playoff line with 11 matches to play and two in hand. Messi won’t be available for all 11, as he’s expected to be called into the Argentina national team twice.
“We put a lot of value in this win because (playing with a rotation) is something we need to get used to,” head coach Tata Martino said Saturday. “He’ll miss at least three games this year and next year it will be the same, and we need to understand that when he’s not here the team still needs to provide results.”
Messi will likely start on Wednesday against a Nashville side that played Miami to a 1-1 draw in the Leagues Cup final before losing the title on penalties.
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Fafa Picault scored a second-half equalizer from a corner kick, and the host Coyotes (11-9-5, 38 points) arguably had more late chances than the Herons.
“We did a fabulous job against them in the final,” recalled Nashville manager Gary Smith.” There will be one or two different dynamics and difficulties in Miami itself. But I do think the guys will have an awful lot of confidence from what was achieved in the final.”
But Nashville has lost four in a row in the league and fallen to seventh in the East. Captain and defender Walker Zimmerman (lower body) is questionable, as is striker Sam Surridge, who played in Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Atlanta United.
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