Lionel Messi Not Enough: Argentina Superstar Fails To Revive Inter Miami's Play-Off Hopes In Major League Soccer

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, who had missed five of his last six games because of a leg injury, was not in the starting line-up but was expected to play at some point in the match.


Lionel Messi on Ground

Lionel Messi's entry into the game in the second half wasn't enough as Inter Miami surrendered a late goal in a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati on Saturday night, ending its post-season hopes. (More Football News)

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, who had missed five of his last six games because of a leg injury, was not in the starting line-up but was expected to play at some point in the match.

Anticipating a second-half appearance, fans at DRV PNK Stadium screamed his name when Messi and teammates began warmups along the sidelines. The screams intensified as Messi approached the midfield area and entered the match in the 55th minute.


He made an immediate impact, drawing a foul and free kick in the 59th minute. But, his shot from 25 yards sailed high and wide.

“As far as the injury is concerned, he is fine. There are no problems,” Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said in Spanish.

“Obviously, because he has not played recently, there was a lack of rhythm. That is why he played (35) minutes.”

Cincinnati, in first place in the Eastern Conference, won the game on Álvaro Barreal's goal in the 78th minute. Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender stopped Yuya Kubo's point-blank shot and Barreal retrieved the deflection and converted with his left foot from 8 yards.


Messi had another free kick during stoppage time but his equalizing attempt sailed wide left.

The loss kept Miami (9-17-6) at 33 points with two matches remaining, while ninth-place Montreal, which held the ninth and last Eastern Conference playoff berth, solidified its spot with its 4-1 win over Portland.

“Honestly, I anticipated the exact difference from what occurred,” said Martino, who took over as Miami coach on June 28. “My expectations were to build the club and qualify for the playoffs."

Miami went 1-2-2 with Messi out of the lineup. Messi likely played his last MLS match of the season after Miami's elimination. He also has pending FIFA World Cup qualifying commitments with Argentina.

Messi scored 12 goals in the combined 13 league and cup matches he played since joining Miami on a 2 1/2-year deal in July. Miami was 8-0-4 with Messi before Saturday's loss.

Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) has already clinched the top berth in the East and a first-round bye. For Cincinnati, the win avenged a home loss against Miami in the US Open Cup semi-final on August 23.

“We had this circled after the Open Cup,” Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund told Apple TV. “It was a tough loss at home. We wanted to come to their place and give them a taste of their own little medicine.”


Miami pressured throughout the first half, but could not beat goalkeeper Roman Celentano.

Josef Martinez and Benjamin Cremaschi had the best scoring opportunities but their shots deflected off the goalpost in the 22nd and 24th minutes. Celentano also dove and deflected Facundo Farias' 20-yard shot in the 30th minute.

“We needed to make a difference in the first half,” Martino said. “Our football was at its best in the first half. We just could not get the needed goal.”

Messi will join Argentina for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Peru on October 12 and 17, respectively. With Miami's season ending soon, Argentina must figure out how to maintain Messi's fitness for World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay on November 16 and at Brazil five days later.


Miami's remaining league matches will be a home and road set against Charlotte on October 18 and 21.