Lionel Messi was substituted with an apparent leg injury in the 37th minute of Inter Miami CF‘s game against Toronto FC on Wednesday, only minutes after his former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba had also left the field.
Messi and Alba, who both started the game after not making the trip for Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United FC, were not involved in any particularly heavy challenges or visibly limping, but were clearly in some kind of physical discomfort.
Both players went straight to the bench rather than the locker room after leaving the field, with Miami scoring a goal after the two left the field to lead 1-0 at halftime.
Messi looked lively early on and had a golden chance in the 23rd minute when his far-post volley from a superb floated Facundo Farías ball was blasted over the bar from close range. However, 15 minutes later, it was clear that the Argentine was laboring due to some physical issue, and he was replaced by Robert Taylor.
Alba had departed just four minutes earlier. Toronto had also made two substitutions before Alba and Messi left the game, with another former Barcelona youth player — Victor Vasquez — forced off in the 12th minute. His replacement, Brandon Servania, then was helped off with an apparent knee injury just 14 minutes later.
Messi was subbed off in the 37th minute, just a few minutes after Alba, after having spent a few minutes laboring with what appeared to be a leg issue. He was stretching during play, then eventually took off his captain’s armband and simply waited for play to stop so he could depart — not even waiting to come off the field before unlacing his cleats, lowering his socks and removing his shin guards.
Messi had missed his past two matches — one for club, the other for country — in recent days, after sitting out Argentina‘s World Cup qualifying win at Bolívia on Sept. 12, and the loss to Atlanta Saturday.
Fatigue was cited in both cases, and Messi was not made available for comment.
Wednesday’s match was the first of six for Inter Miami in a span of 17 days. The team next plays at Orlando City SC on Sunday, then will host Houston Dynamo FC in the U.S. Open Cup final on Sept. 27. That will be followed by three more MLS matches in short order: against New York City FC on Sept. 30, at Chicago Fire FC on Oct. 4 and hosting FC Cincinnati on Oct. 7.
Miami entered Wednesday seven points behind D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with two matches in hand.
Messi entered Wednesday having appeared in 11 matches for Miami, most of them in Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup competition. He had 11 goals and five assists in those first 11 appearances, and one goal with two assists in three MLS matches.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.