The Herons made a convincing argument in Saturday night’s 3-2 come-from-behind home win over Sporting Kansas City – their first full game without their superstar No. 10 since his mid-July arrival, all with eight players away on international duty.
Fellow FC Barcelona legend and blockbuster Secondary Transfer Window signing Sergio Busquets was more than capable of handling the load in midfield, while Leonardo Campana (25' PK, 45') scored a brace and U22 Initiative signing Facundo Farías capped another star-making performance with a 60th-minute golazo.
Sporting KC twice flirted with playing spoiler at DRV PNK Stadium – first through Dániel Sallói’s 9th-minute opener, then via Alan Pulido (78’) pulling one back for the visitors late – but Miami saw the result through to make it 12 straight unbeaten in all competitions, including four in a row in league play.
They remain in 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings but have reduced the gap to six points in their Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs push, holding at least one game in hand on nearly every team currently separating them from the ninth-and-final postseason spot.
It's all while their “leading man,” as head coach Gerardo Martino called Messi in his post-match press conference, was thousands of miles away with the Argentina national team as 2026 World Cup qualifiers begin.
“For a group of players who work so much with a teammate who’s the best player in the world, when he’s not playing, it’s also comforting to them to know they can win,” Tata said to reporters.
Campana, Farías star
Campana, who on Friday all but guaranteed a Miami victory, backed up his words with a first-half brace.
“I said it yesterday: I think [Messi] gives a lot of players confidence, now we believe it, we know what we’re capable of,” the Ecuadorian international said after reaching 7g/2a on the season. “That was the main thing in getting the three points today.”
Farías displayed plenty of confidence Saturday night as well, logging an assist and scoring the eventual game-winner on the hour mark after a quick-thinking Busquets sent a devastating through ball that set up the 21-year-old Argentine's classy finish.
“If I told you I was surprised, it wouldn’t be fair,” Martino said of the summer signing from Colón de Santa Fe. “The truth is I expect this of Facundo because he’s done it in Argentine football… the truth is he’s performing just how we expected him to.”
Miami look to continue their playoff push on Sept. 16 (next Saturday) at Atlanta United. Messi, whose availability for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Bolivia in La Paz is up in the air, will be determined before the Herons’ Matchday 32 visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Heading to Atlanta, Martino's squad should be confident against his former team after their dominant 4-0 Leagues Cup win in late July.
“I told you in yesterday’s press conference, that we could put together a good team,” the 2018 MLS Cup winner with Atlanta stated. “You have to consider that eight, I think, players aren’t here. And even more, I think on top of that we played a good game. I think that’s the most important thing and it’s comforting.”
Still, in the grand scheme of things, Tata is the first to put things in perspective in terms of the importance of their FIFA 2022 World Cup champion and seven-time Ballon d’Or-winning superstar.
“You know how movies have the leading man, the supporting cast?” Martino said. “Well, we’re the supporting actors who are enjoying him.”