Lionel Messi's Return Spurs Excitement for Inter Miami's Final MLS Game
Lionel Messi plans to play in Inter Miami's season finale, boosting ticket sales and potentially impacting Charlotte's playoff hopes.
Lionel Messi has confirmed that he will play in Inter Miami's season finale on Saturday, despite the club not yet confirming the plan. After scoring both goals for Argentina in their 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Peru, Messi did not feature in Inter Miami's final home game against Charlotte on Wednesday. However, he expressed his desire to play one more game for the club before the end of his inaugural MLS season, indicating his intention to play in Charlotte on Saturday, even though the match will be played on artificial turf.
Messi, dressed casually in a white T-shirt, was seen in the Inter Miami bench area with his teammates for Wednesday's match after returning from Peru earlier in the day. While it was expected that he would not play on Wednesday, the fact that he wants to play in Charlotte came as a surprise. This decision could have implications for Charlotte's playoff hopes, as they missed out on a chance to climb from 12th to 8th in the Eastern Conference after tying with Miami 2-2 on Wednesday.
Enzo Copetti and Kerwin Vargas scored for Charlotte, while Nicolas Stefanelli and Robbie Robinson scored for Inter Miami. Depending on the results of other matches on Decision Day in MLS, Inter Miami could still prevent Charlotte from making the playoffs with a win on Saturday. However, Charlotte now needs a win and some help to secure a postseason spot.
Inter Miami was already eliminated from playoff contention earlier this month. Coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino had mentioned earlier in the week that there was a possibility of Messi playing on Saturday, but he did not fully commit to it after Wednesday's match. Martino emphasized the importance of Messi's well-being and confidence in his recovery from injury before making a final decision.
The news of Messi potentially playing has already had a significant impact on ticket sales, with Charlotte selling over 60,000 tickets in its 74,000-seat stadium for Saturday's match. This comes as the MLS Players Association revealed that Messi's annualized compensation from his MLS contract is over $20.4 million, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league. Inter Miami's home finale also coincided with the announcement of Messi's contract details, which is worth about $150 million over a 2 1/2-year period.
Messi's commitment to Argentina for World Cup qualifying had already ruled him out of Wednesday's match, which was a rescheduled game. Given that Saturday's match is meaningless in terms of standings, it was expected that Inter Miami would not take any unnecessary risks with Messi. It is highly likely that Messi will win his eighth Ballon d'Or award when the recipient is announced in Paris on Oct. 30, further solidifying his status as one of the world's top players.
In addition to the season finale, Messi is also expected to play in two exhibition matches in China on Nov. 5 and Nov. 8, marking Inter Miami's first foreign tour. Following that, Argentina has more World Cup qualifiers on Nov. 16 and Nov. 21, after which Messi will likely get an extended break before Inter Miami begins preparations for the 2024 season.
Despite a leg injury that disrupted his season and dashed Inter Miami's playoff hopes, Messi has been a key contributor to the team's success. He has scored 11 goals in 13 matches and has played a crucial role in Inter Miami's run to win their first-ever trophy, the Leagues Cup championship. However, the team has struggled in his absence, with a record of 1-3-3 in seven matches without him. Although he was able to make a brief appearance as a substitute against Cincinnati on Oct. 7, Inter Miami suffered a 1-0 loss that sealed their playoff elimination.
Overall, Messi's presence has been instrumental for Inter Miami, and his commitment to playing in the season finale is a testament to his dedication to the club. Fans can look forward to seeing him on the field once again as he continues to make a significant impact in the MLS.