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The addition of Lionel Messi to Inter Miami CF is a game changer for the franchise but that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t prepared to play without his services.
Messi debuted in MLS competition with the team Saturday night and was able to add a goal as Miami defeated New York Red Bulls 2-0. He did not start the game on the pitch, rather he entered the game in the 60th minute.
Following the game, head coach Tata Martino noted that the rotation used in the game was crucial to the victory, especially since Messi will miss at least three games in each of the next two seasons in order to play Internationally for his native Argentina.
“We put a lot of value in this win because (playing with a rotation) is something we need to get used to because Leo is going to join his national team,” Martino said, per Tom Bogert of The Athletic. “He’ll miss at least three games this year and next year it will be the same, and we need to understand that when he’s not here the team still needs to provide results.”
Messi is slated to play in Miami’s next two games against Nashville SC and Los Angeles FC, which are scheduled for August 30 and September 3. There are conflicts after this, as Messi is set to play in World Cup qualifiers with Argentina on September 9 and 12, and he has MLS Games on the 9th and 16th.
Messi’s presence will be felt for much of Inter Miami’s remaining schedule but they need a sensational run to make the playoffs. The team is currently 14th in the Eastern Conference with 21 points in 23 matches.
Jim Reineking of USA Today previously projected it would take about eight wins in the final 12 matches to crash the playoff party, although Saturday’s victory against the Red Bulls was a step in the right direction.
Messi’s addition will obviously provide a huge help in making this type run, but his absence from games does not mean the team can take time off. He also will be undergoing significant travel over this time, so a true team effort will be needed to carry the team into the postseason.
The team will be taking things one step at a time, and the next step is the August 30 matchup against Nashville, who are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference with 38 points.