Inter Miami’s unrelenting schedule has caught up to Lionel Messi

CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 23: Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami speaks with Gerardo Martino during a stoppage in play in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium on August 23, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Dean/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami at the absolute perfect time to win trophies. He carried Inter through the Leagues Cup within weeks of signing. On Wednesday, he can win a second title in as many months; Miami hosts the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final (8:35 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network/Paramount+/Telemundo).

But he also joined Inter Miami at the absolute busiest time. Between the Leagues Cup, Open Cup, Major League Soccer and World Cup qualifiers, his calendar ingested 25 games in 93 days. He jumped feet-first into that unrelenting stretch without a preseason, after a multi-week vacation. And right around the midway point, in Month 2 of 3, the busyness caught up with him.

Messi has now missed or exited six consecutive games between club and country, and is questionable for Wednesday’s final. He first “felt something” late in Argentina’s Sept. 7 win over Ecuador. He has since tried to manage back-of-leg discomfort that has been described as everything from “fatigue” to “scar tissue,” and that forced him to exit last week’s game against Toronto after 36 minutes.

Six days later, on the eve of the final, he did not participate in the brief open period of Inter Miami’s training session — though he might have joined once media left. An ESPN Argentina camera captured him in street clothes, speaking on the phone at the top of nearby bleachers. Two hours later, Miami head coach Tata Martino was asked about Messi’s availability, and divulged very little.

“We will wait until tomorrow,” Martino said. For Jordi Alba, who is also dealing with a hamstring injury, it will be “difficult,” Martino added, “but Leo, we are going to wait until tomorrow, until the last minute.”

So the world will wait as well, wondering how Miami will handle its Messi conundrum.

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What is Messi’s injury?

Messi, it seems, has been dealing with the remnants of an old injury. He has intermittently struggled with his right hamstring over the years, ever since he was a teenager at Barcelona. It has seemingly been bothering him again this month.

Martino and reporters close to Messi have repeatedly said that it’s not an “injury,” by which they likely mean that…

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