Inter Miami eye Lionel Messi's return in Champions Cup: "There's no room for error"

Lionel Messi - Champions Cup - Leg 2 preview

Inter Miami CF head coach Gerardo Martino, speaking on the eve of Wednesday’s Concacaf Champions Cup fixture vs. Nashville SC (8:15 pm ET | FS2, ViX), never quite confirmed Lionel Messi will return to his starting XI.

But after being rested for Sunday's regular-season match vs. CF Montréal, the legendary No. 10 is all but guaranteed to go from Leg 2's opening whistle as the Herons look to build on last week’s 2-2 draw at Nashville and close out the Round-of-16 series.

Messi and Luis Suárez, who saw reduced minutes vs. Montréal, scored vital away goals that leave Miami well-positioned to finish the job and face either CF Monterrey or FC Cincinnati in the CCC quarterfinals.

“All the players are doing well, all the players are available,” Tata answered when asked specifically about Messi before explaining his recent squad rotation.

“We want to compete well in every competition,” he added. “It’s clear the league is just starting, while in the Champions Cup we have a decisive match tomorrow where there’s no room for error. When we planned ahead of the season, we contemplated this situation: a game in between Champions Cup would likely be a league match where we’d make important changes.”

So Martino modified his lineup heavily against Montréal, and Miami suffered a 3-2 setback to end their undefeated MLS start. Still, he isn’t losing any sleep over it.

“Consider the league allows room for mistakes because it’s just beginning, while Champions Cup doesn’t,” Martino said.

The Nashville threat

Martino’s extra CCC caution isn’t without basis, especially taking their opponent into account.

Nashville, who pushed Miami to the limit in last year’s legendary Leagues Cup final, were arguably the better side during last week’s first leg. After staking a two-goal lead on Jacob Shaffelburg's brace, Nashville appeared to have a third before Shaq Moore’s tally was called back after Video Review.

Messi and Suárez eventually put Inter Miami in the driver’s seat with their vintage late magic, but the Herons aren’t taking anything for granted.

“Our last meetings with them, it’s kind of come down to the wire,” goalkeeper Drake Callender said. “Very competitive, very gritty games… I think it’s a good rivalry and I think it’s always fun to play them.”

Callender is especially embracing the opportunity to take on a high-level challenge so soon after having a noticeable off day in goal against Montréal.

“Goalkeepers do need short memory,” the 26-year-old said. “You know, there’s moments in the game where you make decisions, and sometimes those decisions can be hard.”

Yedlin's replacement?

Callender and Miami have conceded five goals in their last two matches (all competitions) – ever since trading starting right back DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati. According to Martino, a replacement for the USMNT veteran should arrive before the Primary Transfer Window closes on April 23.

“With DeAndre’s departure and Ian Fray’s injury, we don’t have a natural right back,” Tata stated. “So right now the priority is getting a player for that position.”

While Miami are negotiating with several candidates, and played midfielder David Ruiz there against Montréal, another signing could materialize.

Martino confirmed the club are awaiting word from FIFA regarding Paraguayan international midfielder Matías Rojas and his status with Brazilian club Corinthians.

“I think Matías depends on FIFA’s resolution. What’s his situation with Corinthians?” Tata said. “Once that’s resolved, we’ll see if we can get him.”