Martino: Messi to start at home vs. Nashville

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Inter Miami CF coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Tuesday that Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets will likely return to the starting lineup for Wednesday’s home matchup against Nashville SC.

The former Barcelona stars both came off the bench at the hour mark in Saturday’s 2-0 road win against the New York Red Bulls, with Messi scoring in his first MLS game. Both veterans had gone the distance in their previous six contests.

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“I think the game [Messi] needed to get some rest was the last one in New York, same as Busquets,” Martino said. “If there are no issues, [Messi] should [start].”

Miami’s first home MLS contest featuring their slew of six transfer window signings will be against a Nashville side that Martino’s squad vanquished after penalty kicks in the Leagues Cup final a couple of Saturdays ago.

That was the first trophy lifted in team history, and if Inter Miami want to make a run at also winning the MLS Cup, they will need to pick up wins quickly.

Miami is in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points adrift of the final playoff spot with 11 games remaining.

One situation that could potentially put a wrench in that quest for points are the upcoming international breaks on Sept. 4-12 and Oct. 10-17.

Luckily for Inter Miami, they only have one game during that span — a home contest with Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 9th.

However, Martino said after Saturday’s win that Messi could potentially miss three Inter Miami games this season while playing for Argentina, and that it is what it is.

“It’s something we have to get accustomed to,” said Martino. “He’s going to miss at least three games — he’s going to get called up by his national team — and we need to keep winning.”

Argentina take on Ecuador on Sept. 7th and Bolívia on Sept. 12th, both in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Miami’s MLS games either side of those are on Sept. 3 and Sept. 16.

There is also another international break Oct. 10-17, which means Messi could potentially miss Inter Miami’s game with Charlotte FC. That contest was originally scheduled for Aug. 20, but the team announced Monday it will now take place on Oct. 18.

In addition to Messi, Martino could also be missing up to 11 other players for the Sporting KC game, including several consistent starters along the back line in the form of DeAndre Yedlin (United States), Kamal Miller (Canada) and Robert Kryvtsov (Ukraine). Sources told ESPN that Jordi Alba will retire from Spain duty.

Goalkeeper Drake Callender might also have played his way into USMNT contention with his superb form this season, and could also miss the game with Kansas City, who sit 11th in the West and have only one road victory all season.

Martino did reveal Tuesday that things might get a little less stressful for him next season, as Major League Soccer seems to finally be planning on officially incorporating all FIFA international breaks into their schedule for the first time, starting in 2024.

Through this season, MLS teams have had the option to schedule games during certain international breaks if they wanted to.

“I understand that they are analyzing that for next year,” Martino said. “It is probable that that will happen.”

For now, Martino will be focused on Wednesday’s contest with Nashville, who have lost six of their last seven MLS matches and have been shut out in five of those defeats.

A win for Miami could move them three points closer to New York City FC, who sit five points ahead of them in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

The top nine teams in each conference make the MLS Cup Playoffs, which are scheduled to start Oct. 25-26 with the Wild Card games between the eighth and ninth seeds in each conference.

Should Inter Miami finish higher than eighth, they wouldn’t start postseason play until Oct. 28th at the earliest.

In other news, the club announced Monday they have officially broken ground on their planned 25,000-seat stadium. Miami Freedom Park is scheduled to open in time for the 2025 season.

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