That was the moment Lionel Messi, back in action after missing Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United, slowly stepped off the field to make way for Robert Taylor – just two minutes after former FC Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba made an early exit as well, giving his place to Noah Allen.
The Herons barely missed a beat, opening the score before the break on summer U22 Initiative signing Facundo Farías’ golazo before tallying three more times in the second half, via a Taylor brace and another strike from rising homegrown Benjamin Cremaschi.
Yet their superstar duo couldn't shake off the “muscular fatigue” that sidelined them at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will keep both out of Sunday's (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FS1) Matchday 34 showdown at Florida rivals Orlando City SC, Miami head coach Gerardo Martino revealed post-match.
“We have to go day by day, see the medical report, see what they themselves tell us,” Tata said of his star players. “We’ll monitor them and we’ll think about it. Obviously, there’s no chance they’ll play on Sunday.”
Open Cup absence?
Messi, in particular, is suffering the lingering effects of an unspecified past injury that also led him to sit out Argentina’s recent win at Bolivia after opening 2026 World Cup qualifiers with a game-winning free-kick golazo against Ecuador.
“In principle, it’s a scar from an old injury that’s bothering him,” Martino said. “The image brought with him from Argentina, there was no muscular injury. We also preserved him [against Atlanta], because of that scar.
“… I think it’s exactly the same thing, it’s not a muscular injury. But I’m saying that more than anything because of a talk I had with him. … Maybe we need to be more cautious than what I’m saying.”
Just how cautious? Tata also didn’t rule out sitting both Messi and Alba during next Wednesday’s 2023 US Open Cup Final against Houston Dynamo FC if necessary. If Miami win the USOC, it will be their second trophy in as many months after winning Leagues Cup in late August.
“I know we have a final, but in no way will they step on the field if they’re not in conditions to do so,” Martino said.
Even without Messi and Alba, Miami definitely have options as they ended the night 13th in the Eastern Conference standings – five points behind the ninth-and-final Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spot with six games remaining.
They showed their depth again Wednesday thanks to the likes of Farías, Cremaschi and Taylor. The former broke the ice just before halftime with a powerful volley off a half-clearance inside the box. It was his third goal in four matches. Cremaschi broke a month-long scoreless streak to reach 2g/4a on the season.
And Taylor netted twice, including a skillful 54th-minute solo effort that earned comparisons to none other than Messi.
“I don’t think there’s much advice he can give on copying his play because no one can copy his play,” Taylor said of his darting across the edge of the box before firing with his right – as opposed to the iconic No. 10’s left-sided runs and finishes. “… I will try to do it again, but I won’t promise it. It’s not like Messi, obviously.”
However, the 28-year-old Finnish international believes Miami have more than enough tools to face whatever comes next – even without Messi.
"It's very important. I mean right, it's the most important player for us," Taylor said.
"But we have to play sometimes without them and it's important for the rest of us to step up and bring in the results as well."