Head coach Gerardo Martino hammered home that message after the Herons fell 2-1 to Houston Dynamo FC. Neither their iconic No. 10 nor fellow summer blockbuster signing Jordi Alba were in the club’s matchday squad at DRV PNK Stadium due to lingering muscle injuries.
“It wasn’t prudent for him to play, that much is clear,” Tata explained to reporters post-match. “Not even to consider him for some minutes, because it was a risk.”
The possible silver lining in all of this is Messi should be available for the Herons as they begin their final push for the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. Currently five points below the ninth-and-final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, Miami have five remaining games to make up the gap.
“Yes, he’ll likely play before the league ends,” Martino said, without providing a clear timetable for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner. “…We’ll go game-by-game, defining the situation to see in what moment the medical staff tells us he’s in conditions to play without risking it.”
Miami came out flat Wednesday night despite an offensive-minded starting XI that included Facundo Farías, Leo Campana and Robert Taylor up top, with Benjamin Cremaschi and Diego Gómez as attacking midfielders in front of Sergio Busquets. But Houston dominated the proceedings practically from the get-go, taking a two-goal lead into halftime on goals from Griffin Dorsey and Amine Bassi.
Second-half substitute Josef Martínez sparked some late life into the hosts with a stoppage-time goal, but a Miami comeback was not in the cards.
“What I saw was a worn-out team,” Martino said, alluding to Miami’s loaded schedule that – according to the Argentine manager – is taking its toll on the entire squad, not just Messi and Alba.
“… The reality is that we were eventually going to suffer the consequences of playing so many games,” including their Leagues Cup 2023 title run, USOC campaign and late-season MLS push.
“We’ve started feeling it in terms of injuries and we’ve started feeling it in terms of functionality.”
Miami are winless in their two games (all competitions) since Messi and Alba made an early exit from their 4-0 victory over Toronto FC on Sept. 20. While their playoff chances have taken a hit, Martino vows to keep fighting with whoever’s available – beginning with Saturday’s home match against New York City FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
“Now all that’s left is the league, let’s try it,” Tata said. “We have a final on Saturday, we have another final on Wednesday, with a trip to Chicago included. The circus continues.”