Head coach Gerardo Martino all but confirmed Messi – along with Sergio Busquets – will be on the DRV PNK Stadium pitch from the opening whistle in a rematch of this month’s Leagues Cup Final that saw the Herons lift their first-ever trophy after a dramatic penalty-kick shootout win.
“The game he needed, the key game for him to have a bit of recovery was the last one in New York [against the Red Bulls], the same with Busquets,” Tata told reporters Tuesday on the eve of their Matchday 29 encounter.
“If there are no issues, he should start.”
Messi has played virtually non-stop since debuting for Miami in late July, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists in nine appearances (seven starts) across all competitions – including the aforementioned Leagues Cup-winning campaign, as well as last week’s heroic performance in a US Open Cup semifinal victory over Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Cincinnati.
In the latter game, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner went the full 90, plus 30 minutes of extra time, as the Herons clinched the PK shootout to earn hosting rights for the Sept. 27 final against Houston Dynamo FC.
Miami’s congested schedule finally forced Martino’s hand in Matchday 28, as he started Messi on the bench for his MLS debut. But the 2022 FIFA World Cup champion with Argentina stole the show anyway, sending a record Red Bull Arena crowd of 26,276 fans into a frenzy with a trademark golazo, complete with a mind-blowing pass for Benjamin Cremaschi before tapping in an empty-netter, to cap a 2-0 win in stunning fashion.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve watched an assist no less than 10 times,” Martino said of Messi’s freakish display of vision and skill. “… I really can’t understand how he saw Cremaschi.”
Tata has made no secret of the importance of Messi, alongside fellow FC Barcelona legends Busquets and Jordi Alba, for a Miami side that's looking to build on a stunning summer turnaround by reaching the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Herons currently sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points off the postseason pace, with 11 games remaining.
“Having a player like Leo, it’s very difficult not to design the team around him and the way we can get the best version of him,” the 2018 MLS Cup winner with Atlanta United said. “So all the things we use, the systems we use and the different opponents we have, we always do it thinking about how he can have the biggest impact on the game."
“Up until now in that sense we’re doing well because the rest of the players understand very well what the idea is and how we can exploit Leo’s possibilities, without not playing as a team.”
Martino's team-first ethos will be put to the test next month, when Conmebol kicks off its qualifying cycle for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico. With Messi a lock to get called up by Argentina for the September international window, Miami must face part of the final stretch without their star player.