Injury scare for Lionel Messi as Inter Miami star leaves Toronto match early

Messi was subbed off in the 37th minute of Inter Miami's match against Toronto


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Lionel Messi of Inter Miami controls the ball during the first half of the match against Toronto FC. — AFP
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami controls the ball during the first half of the match against Toronto FC. — AFP

Published: Thu 21 Sep 2023, 11:13 AM

Lionel Messi returned to Inter Miami's line-up on Wednesday night. It was a short-lived comeback, and now he's sidelined again.

Messi was subbed off in the 37th minute of Inter Miami's match against Toronto, after spending a few minutes labouring with what appeared to be a leg issue. Miami came up big without him, winning 4-0 to move within five points of the final playoff spot in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.

Robert Taylor, who came on for Messi, had two goals and an assist. But Messi's status overshadowed everything, and Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after the game that the Argentine star will miss Sunday's game at Orlando.

“He had an old injury that had been bothering him,” Martino said, as relayed through a team official who translated his remarks from Spanish to English.

In an earlier answer that was not translated, Martino said Messi would miss at least one more match.

The 36-year-old Messi had missed two matches — one for club, the other for country — in recent days, after sitting out Argentina’s World Cup qualifying win at Bolivia on Sept. 12, and Inter Miami’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United this past Saturday.

Fatigue was cited in both cases, and the team did not provide any diagnosis of what is troubling the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner now. The game was scoreless when Messi was subbed out.

It was the second big injury blow for Inter Miami on Wednesday. Jordi Alba — another celebrated mid-season addition — had to leave in the 34th minute, shortly before Messi's night was over. Alba will not play on Sunday, either.

“We had to step up,” Taylor said.

Facundo Farias and second-half sub Benjamin Cremaschi had the other goals.

“It shows the depth that we have on our team,” goalie Drake Callender said.

Messi had a couple of chances on Wednesday, and appeared to stop running somewhat abruptly after carrying the ball deep into the Toronto box in the 33rd minute. He was barely engaged after that, leaning forward at one point as if to stretch the back of his legs, then eventually took off his captain's armband — actually trying a long pass while holding the armband — before waiting for play to stop so he could depart.

Messi didn’t even wait to come off the field before unlacing his cleats, lowering his socks and removing his shin guards. He placed the captain's band onto the arm of DeAndre Yedlin — who was Inter Miami's captain before Messi began his stint with the team in July — and now it's anyone's guess when Messi will wear it again.

The team would likely want him to play in the US Open Cup final on Sept. 27.

Martino, per the team's translation, said Messi was removed from Wednesday's game “to be safe.”

“We don’t think it’s a muscular injury. That’s also from a conversation that I just had with him,” Martino said via the translation, even though Messi was stretching in a manner that suggested otherwise before leaving the field.

“But we have to continue being careful and we’ll look at him the next few days.”

Wednesday’s match was the first of what will be six for Inter Miami in a span of 17 days. The team play at Orlando on Sunday, then will host Houston in the US Open Cup final on Sept. 27. That will be followed by three more MLS matches in short order: against New York City FC on Sept. 30, at Chicago on Oct. 4 and playing host to Cincinnati on Oct. 7.

The daunting stretch will be even tougher if Messi isn't around.

Messi has now appeared in 12 matches over two months for Miami, most of them in Leagues Cup and US Open Cup competition. He ha 11 goals and eight assists, and one goal and two assists in four MLS matches.


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