CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Lionel Messi is in the starting lineup for Inter Miami in its MLS season finale against FC Charlotte.
Messi will be the captain in the meaningless game on Saturday night for Miami, which failed to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Charlotte has plenty at stake on the last day of the regular season.
Charlotte wasted a pair of one-goal leads and tied Miami 2-2 on Wednesday, missing out on a chance to move from 12th to 8th place in the Eastern Conference. The top nine teams in each conference make the playoffs. Charlotte is one of five teams chasing the last two playoff spots in the conference.
Messi did not play in Wednesday’s game — Miami’s last home game of the MLS season — after scoring both goals for Argentina in its 2-0 World Cup qualifying win at Peru on Tuesday night. He was in the Inter Miami bench area with his teammates for the match after returning from Peru earlier in the day.
Messi told reporters in Peru that he wants to play once more for Inter Miami before his inaugural MLS season ends, and that meant playing in Charlotte even though the match will be played on artificial turf.
Messi, a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s top player, is also expected to play in Inter Miami’s colors on Nov. 5 and Nov. 8, when the team plays two exhibition matches in China. It’ll be the first time Inter Miami goes on a foreign tour. Argentina then has more World Cup qualifiers on Nov. 16 and Nov. 21 — after which Messi should get an extended break before Inter Miami begins preparing for 2024.
Messi has 11 goals in 13 matches with Inter Miami this season. The team has gone 8-1-4 when he plays; seven of those matches were on the team’s run to win its first-ever trophy by claiming the Leagues Cup championship. He has also appeared in five MLS games, starting three times and scoring one goal. He also played in one U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
But a leg injury derailed his season, and essentially ended Inter Miami’s chances of making the postseason. Miami is now 1-3-3 in seven matches without Messi since he joined the club. He was able to play as a reserve on Oct. 7 against Cincinnati, but Inter Miami lost 1-0 in the outcome that sealed its playoff elimination.
AP MLS: https://apnews.com/hub/major-league-soccer