Lionel Messi’s leg injury is ‘bothering him’ again, a worry for Inter Miami even in victory

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Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi races ahead of Nashville SC midfielder Anibal Godoy during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions Cup soccer match Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

Lionel Messi exited Inter Miami’s Wednesday win over Nashville after 50 minutes due to what head coach Tata Martino called an “overload” in his right back-of-leg muscles.

Miami cruised to victory in Wednesday’s game, 3-1 (5-3 aggregate), to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinals. Messi scored one goal and assisted another in a straightforward first half.

But he lasted only five minutes in the second half. “We tried to see if he could last a little longer,” Martino said postgame. “But it was bothering him.” Martino indicated that Messi would likely miss Miami’s next match, Saturday at D.C. United.

Martino framed the substitution as something of a precaution. He spoke about not wanting to “run any risks.” But his language was ominous, because it mirrored the explanations he gave last fall as Messi struggled with his right hamstring, a periodically recurring issue throughout his career.

The issue first resurfaced last September, when Messi exited a World Cup qualifier a few minutes early. He then missed a second qualifier and an Inter Miami game at Atlanta United. He returned for an MLS match against Toronto FC, and all seemed well — until he left that game after 36 minutes.

Martino, at the time, first described the problem as “fatigue.” But he later added that the issue was “scar tissue.”

Martino and Inter Miami largely refrained from using the word “injury.” But Messi ultimately missed part or all of eight games. His absence derailed Inter’s season. And the worry, of course, is that a similar injury could do so again.

Messi dealt with what appeared to be a separate adductor injury during a draining preseason tour that circumnavigated the globe. By the end of it, he admitted to being “a little tired from all this travel.” He was fit to start the MLS season, though, and brilliant as ever.

The back-of-leg discomfort seemed to resurface this month. In last week’s Concacaf Champions Cup first leg in Nashville, Messi was seen receiving treatment on the same leg that bothered him six days later.

He sat out Sunday’s MLS game against Montreal. The club described his absence as “rest.”

He returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, but left with Inter Miami leading only 2-0.

Later in the match, with victory more or less assured, he was pictured laughing on the bench with Suarez.

But he is doubtful for Inter Miami’s next game — in less than 72 hours, Saturday afternoon in Washington D.C.

“I imagine that he won’t be available for Saturday’s game,” Martino said. “They will surely take [scans], and we will see how he progresses.”

Messi could then be questionable for two Argentina friendlies in the U.S. in late March. Inter Miami’s next meaningful game will be in early April, a Champions Cup quarterfinal against either Monterrey or FC Cincinnati.

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