Here’s how it goes for Inter Miami right now when it comes to the injured Lionel Messi: The team keeps saying he might play, and then he doesn’t play.
That pattern held true again Saturday, when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was scratched from the lineup for a matchup against New York City FC — a game with significant Major League Soccer playoff implications for both clubs. Messi has a leg injury, the severity of which has not been revealed by Inter Miami.
The team announced that Messi would not play about 45 minutes before Saturday’s game time. Without Messi, Miami still had some magic — Tomás Avilés scored off a header in stoppage time to salvage what became a 1-1 tie. NYCFC had the lead on a goal by Santiago Rodriguez in the 77th minute.
The 36-year-old Messi has now missed four of Inter Miami’s last five matches, plus another for Argentina in that span because of what was first called fatigue — by both his club and country — and has evolved from there. The only game he didn’t miss during that stretch was a 37-minute appearance against Toronto on Sept. 20, and he had to leave that match before halftime because of what is believed to be a hamstring issue.
“He’s doing better and better,” Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after Saturday’s match.
Inter Miami still has playoff hope, but it took a hit Saturday and the team no longer is in control of its postseason destiny whether Messi returns or not. It is four points behind Montreal for the ninth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference; Inter Miami has four matches left, Montreal has three. NYCFC moved up to No. 8 in the East with the tie, climbing one spot.
And Messi’s status the rest of the way remains a mystery, even as some fans pay hundreds of dollars — or more — to attend a match with hopes of seeing him play. Martino said the plan is for Messi to be on the training pitch in the coming days, with more evaluation coming Tuesday. The team next plays Wednesday at Soldier Field in Chicago, in a match against the Chicago Fire.
“We are not going to take any risks,” Martino said.
Many fans on social media have responded to posts from the team with outrage over the lack of transparency about Messi’s status. A post previewing the NYCFC match, sent around midday Saturday, elicited comments like “Post the squad…