A huge segment of fans at DRV PNK Stadium showed up wearing Messi’s No. 10 jersey, and hundreds of them lined up along parking lot barricades two hours before kickoff hoping to catch a glimpse of the Argentine star on the team bus as it entered the stadium gate.
They did not get their wish.
Messi showed up just before the scheduled start of the game in street clothes, as he did the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday, which Miami lost 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo. He was in the locker room with his teammates before the game.
After scoring 11 goals during Inter Miami’s 12-game unbeaten streak, Messi has played just 37 minutes since the 3-1 road victory against Los Angeles FC on Sept. 3. He missed the game against Kansas City while on national team duty and has missed four of the next five matches with an unspecified leg injury.
He skipped the road trip to Atlanta, returned to the starting lineup at home against Toronto FC, but asked to come out after 37 minutes, bothered by an old leg injury, according to coach Tata Martino.
Neither Messi nor the club have provided details about the injury. Martino and assistant coach Javi Morales, asked for updates, have repeatedly said that Messi’s status is “day to day” and that his availability for each match would a game day decision. Morales added that muscle injuries can be tricky because players can feel fine, but then aggravate the injury at a training session or game.
Messi went out to the training field later than the rest of the team Friday morning, just as the media viewing session ended, so it is unknown if he went through a full workout.
Inter Miami is five points and five places behind NYCFC for the ninth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. Miami has 32 points, NYCFC has 37.
In recent years, it took 43 points to reach the ninth-place line. If that holds true, Miami needs 12 points from the final five games to get to the post-season, which leaves little room for error.