Inter Miami star Lionel Messi won’t be with the team for its road game against Atlanta United on Saturday, according to multiple reports. ESPN first reported the news. Here’s what you need to know:
- The 36-year-old played 88 minutes in Argentina’s World Cup qualifying match against Ecuador on Sept. 7. Although he traveled with the national team for its next game against Bolivia on Tuesday, he was not named to the roster for the high-altitude contest.
- Miami coach Tata Martino said Messi was “fine” Friday, but he wouldn’t decide about Messi’s availability until after the end of training before the Atlanta match. “We’ll be careful with him because we have a lot of important games in a short span,” Martino said.
- Inter Miami sits six points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot with eight games left in the regular season.
Martino said last month the team would be without Messi for “at least” three games this season while he plays for the national team. He missed Miami’s game last weekend against Sporting KC, a 3-2 win.
The Atlanta matchup is expected to draw a sellout crowd of 72,000 fans.
Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of six venues in Major League Soccer with artificial turf, adding to the intrigue around Messi’s status. A number of aging stars who have come to MLS from Europe over the years have avoided playing matches on the league’s artificial surfaces.
In August, Messi said playing on turf in his new league wouldn’t be an issue.
“The truth is my youth was spent on artificial turf, my whole life was on that pitch,” Messi said. “Truth is it’s been a while since I’ve played on artificial turf, but I have no problem adapting myself again.”
Martino — who coached Atlanta between 2016 and 2018 — said this week he had no concerns about his team playing on the surface. “My experience with Atlanta’s turf has always been positive,” he told The Athletic on Tuesday.
(Photo: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)