Lionel Messi did not feature for Inter Miami in Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United in front of a crowd of 71,635 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after failing to be named in the team’s starting lineup or on the substitutes’ bench.
Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said that Messi did not travel for the game due to “muscular fatigue.”
Messi uncharacteristically left Argentina‘s World Cup qualifying win last week over Ecuador before the final whistle, and although he made Wednesday’s trip to Bolívia, he was not named in coach Lionel Scaloni’s 23-man squad for the 3-0 victory at La Paz’s high altitude.
Martino said early Friday that Messi was “fine” but he wanted to wait until after the last training before the game to make a decision about the star’s availability against Atlanta.
“We will be careful with him because we have a lot of important games in a short span,” Martino said.
Miami’s schedule was packed before the international break, and it has a quick turnaround before Wednesday’s home match with Toronto FC. Messi will also have more World Cup qualifiers to navigate in October, with CONMEBOL qualifiers against Paraguay (Oct. 12) and Peru (Oct. 17).
Miami’s games around that time would both be against Charlotte FC: at home on Oct. 18 and in North Carolina on Oct. 21 to close out the regular season.
“This is something that we knew would happen at some point, but that he would begin to get used to our needs, especially for seasons like this with a lot of matches,” Martino said in regard to the prospect of resting Messi more due to his schedule.
“Playing each match, 90 minutes each game, two to three days with travel in between would get difficult.”
Messi trained with the team Thursday and Friday, and although Atlanta plays on turf, the 36-year-old said in his lone news conference last month that he played on turf as a youth and wouldn’t have a problem doing it again.
“The truth is my youth was spent on artificial turf, my whole life was on that pitch,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played on artificial turf, but I have no problem adapting myself again.”
Atlanta was one of two MLS teams left on Inter Miami’s remaining away schedule that play on turf. Charlotte is the other, and Miami won’t play there until the last game of the regular season, by which time Miami might already have sewn up a playoff spot.
If it does make the playoffs, Miami could well face a trip to another Eastern Conference club that has turf — the New England Revolution. Despite their recent managerial issues, the Revs are currently in second place in the standings.
Information from ESPN’s Ross Devonport was used in this report.