A game-changing sensation since he left Paris Saint-Germain of France’s top-flight football league to join Major League Soccer and suit up for Inter Miami CF, Lionel Messi was unable to post for his club Wednesday, due to a mysterious injury he picked up while playing for Argentina. He watched from a luxury box as his team lost 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for Inter Miami supporters. In the 12 Inter Miami games in which Messi has toed the pitch, the team has never lost and watched him score 11 goals and assist on eight others in the process. But, with Messi sidelined with a “leg issue” for the fourth time in five games combined for his MLS team and international squad, Miami was unable to overcome a pair of first-half goals by Houston.
Inter Miami certainly could have used Messi to help them equalize with a U.S. Open Cup title on the line, but head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said it wasn’t “prudent” to consider playing Messi against Houston on Wednesday. “It was clearly not prudent for him to play, not even for a few minutes,” Martino said after the match. “We couldn’t take the risk. But he will surely play again before the end of the season. His participation will be determined game by game based on the medical team’s feedback.”
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It may not have been prudent to play Messi against Houston with Inter Miami five points behind New York City FC for the final playoff spot in MLS, but it also may speak to how little the U.S. Open Cup title is valued for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner not to take the field and attempt to gut it out for his team.
Maybe Messi and Inter Miami are playing the long game and they are prioritizing an MLS playoff berth over a U.S. Open Cup title and that might, ultimately, be the right call. But it’s hard to see a superstar sit on the sidelines with a somewhat vague injury with a trophy on the line and not question why that’s the case. It’s often forgotten, but the best ability in sports is availability. If Messi isn’t available, what’s his real value? On Wednesday, it was nil.