National Writer: Charles Boehm

Lionel Messi injury: Inter Miami star questionable for visit to DC United


Gary Smith succinctly summed up the sentiments of Nashville SC and their fans when asked about his reaction to Lionel Messi’s 50th-minute exit from Inter Miami’s 3-1 win in the second leg of their Concacaf Champions Cup Round-of-16 duel on Wednesday.

“Firstly,” said the Nashville coach, “thank goodness.”

Messi was his usual menacing self in the first half, combining fluidly with Luis Suárez to assist as his old friend opened the scoring, then applied the finishing touch himself on Miami’s second strike 15 minutes later.

Gerardo “Tata” Martino later revealed that the GOAT’s departure early in the second half was not planned, however, but the product of discomfort in his right leg, apparently in the hamstring or gluteus area.

“He is overloaded in the right posterior,” said the Herons’ boss in Spanish after the advancement-clinching win at Chase Stadium. “We don't want to run a risk. We tried to see if he could go for a little longer, but it was bothering him, so we preferred for him to just get out of the game.”

The injury concern, combined with IMCF’s hectic March schedule, puts Messi’s availability for this Saturday’s league visit to undefeated D.C. United in question (2 pm ET | Apple TV - Free). The playmaker already sat out Sunday's 3-2 loss to CF Montréal to manage his minutes.

“I don't want to risk it, but I imagine that for Saturday's game, he is not going to be available,” said Martino. “We'll have an evaluation and see some imaging, and we will see how he progresses.”

Wednesday’s comfortable win was essentially sealed before half an hour had passed, with a dominant start that again served notice of how devastating Miami can be when firing on all cylinders. Both coaches pointed to Messi’s massive role in that, as the Argentine legend’s excellence pervades his team whenever he’s on the pitch.

“He's such a huge influence on the rest of the group. Yes, they have other very good players. But there is no one that can do what he can do,” said Smith. “There is an infinite amount of trust in his decisions, his techniques, his ability. As soon as he gets on the ball everyone else goes into gear. And that's a real problem. That's a problem for individuals playing against him, it's a problem for the midfield players and defenders, because they're now seeing runners that they wouldn't normally see.

“Maybe one or two players that have got that sort of confidence from the rest of their teammates around the league. Not many. And nobody at the level, of course, that this guy can produce.”

Asked if IMCF’s less-dynamic second-half display means his squad is overly dependent on Messi, Martino suggested this is simply the reality of his greatness.

“We are conscious that when the season started, because of different circumstances, Leo was not going to start in all these games, or play in all these games,” said the coach. “But what I want to emphasize is that he has been a very important player for 15 years at Barcelona, a couple years at Paris Saint-Germain, and all the national team games of Argentina. Why would he not be for us? It is not just replacing a player, it’s replacing the best player of all.

“So what we have to do is readapt our game because of his loss, his exit. It’s one thing to adapt the game for his absence when it’s a game that we're planning on it. It’s different doing it 50 minutes into the game that we're still playing.”