Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has hinted that Lionel Messi may not start Saturday’s Major League Soccer clash at the New York Red Bulls. Messi has played eight games inside a month for Miami in their triumphant Leagues Cup campaign and Wednesday’s US Open Cup semi-final win at Cincinnati. Asked at a press conference whether Messi will play in what will be Miami’s first regular season MLS game since the arrival of the Argentine, Martino said no decision had yet been made.
“We will see after training (Friday night), after we talk to the players. They have been resting since the Cincinnati game, with just a light training session at the hotel,” he said.
With tickets selling at a premium for Saturday’s game at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, the absence of Messi would be a major disappointment for thousands of fans. But Martino said he cannot allow himself to be influenced by such factors.
“I understand the expectations the rest of the world has to watch him, that is undeniable,” he said. “But I cannot act based on that because if I do I would risk doing things wrong. The only thing I am concerned about if is he is able to play,” he added.
However Martino suggested that if he did try to rest Messi, who has 10 goals for Miami already, he may well face resistance from the World Cup winner.
“Throughout his career, he has always wanted to play every game and sometimes you have to convince him to stop so he can recover, but I don’t pay attention to external pressures when it comes to deciding if he should play or not,” said Martino, who coached Messi at Barcelona and with the Argentine national team.
Messi played all 120 minutes in the extra-time and penalty shoot-out win at Cincinnati on Wednesday and showed signs of tiredness — as did former Barca team-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
The rhythm of two games a week continues for Miami with a home game against Nashville to follow on Wednesday. “I understand we have a big load with the re-start of the league schedule coming off all the cup games we played, reaching the Leagues Cup final and playing the U.S. Open Cup semifinal,” Martino said.
“We have to take that seriously, but we have had a lot to handle the past month and a half, and we must see how the players feel. Some ended the Cincinnati game with minor injuries, and tired, so that will factor in my decision on Saturday’s squad,” he added.
Miami sit in bottom place in the Eastern Conference but hope that over the next 12 games Messi can help make a push for a top nine finish and a place in the playoffs.