(Photo credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports)
Inter Miami will be trying to pick up another crucial result in their pursuit of the playoffs without Lionel Messi when they travel a few hours north to visit Orlando City on Sunday evening.
Messi has played only 41 of Miami's last 270 minutes in league play, first missing out due to international duty with Argentina and then because of fitness concerns.
The official explanation is not a new injury but the aggravation of a previous ailment due to fatigue. But it had the appearance of a player leaving the field injured when Messi exited with a slight limp in the first half of Miami's 4-0 home win against Toronto FC on Wednesday.
"It's bothersome," said manager Tata Martino, via an interpretation from Goal.com. "I don't know if it hurts. I can't really explain as it's more a medical topic. It's probable it bothers (Messi) to the point, including mentally, that he isn't able to play freely."
The Herons (9-15-4, 31 points) entered the game five points beneath the playoff line and have recently fared OK without their star. They beat Sporting Kansas City at home and lost at Atlanta United in games Messi did not dress. All four of their goals against Toronto came after his exit.
But a trip to second-place Orlando (14-7-8, 50 points) is a tougher assignment given how well the Lions have played of late.
A 2-0 loss at New York City FC in midweek halted an impressive six-match unbeaten run (5-0-1). The Lions clinched a playoff spot anyway thanks to results elsewhere later in the evening. They had needed until the final day to secure their postseason place a season ago.
"To clinch now is a tremendous achievement from our team and our club and our fans," coach Oscar Pareja said postgame. "We would have loved to celebrate that with a victory today and a better result and a better performance, but we couldn't. We have no excuses. We are responsible for the good and the things we did not do good."
Club scoring leader Facundo Torres has scored 10 of his 12 goals since the start of June and is just three off the pace of the league lead. He's led an attack that has scored two or more in six consecutive home matches.
--Field Level Media