Miami’s Martino plays down Messi injury fears

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Inter Miami CF coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino played down a potential Lionel Messi injury after the Argentine superstar appeared to tweak his right ankle during training Monday.

“I was only at a part of the session because I had a meeting afterwards and was finishing preparing, so I didn’t see exactly what happened. But if it was something serious, I’m sure everyone would have been shocked,” Martino said before his team flew out for Tuesday’s Leagues Cup semifinal against Philadelphia Union. “Since everyone was fine, I imagine nothing happened.”

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Messi, who has scored eight times in five cup matches since joining the South Florida club, will certainly hope to be at full health for what will likely be his toughest test in pink against Jim Curtin’s side at Subaru Park.

The Union finished runners-up in MLS last season and currently sit third in the Eastern Conference with only once at home all season, back in March against Orlando.

And while Miami has scored a whopping 17 times in their blistering run to the final four, Philadelphia has only allowed four goals in their five Leagues Cup contests.

But stopping Messi is another story, and Martino — who coached the 36-year-old previously with both Argentina and Barcelona — said Monday that he sees a new, more content Messi out there since his World Cup triumph and his subsequent move to Miami.

“You see it in the field; I don’t have to tell you, but he’s a lot calmer, much happier,” said Martino. “Being happy also has to do with where he’s been.”

If Miami wants to avoid a third road trip in four games over a span of 13 days and host Saturday’s final, they will need to defeat Philadelphia and hope Monterrey beats Nashville in the other semifinal that starts two and a half hours later than Miami’s game.

That’s because Leagues Cup rules this year state that any Mexican team is the away side in any game versus an MLS squad.

If Nashville and Miami win, the Tennessee side will host the final due to their superior 2022 regular season record.

However, should Miami lose, they will play a third-place game, which – unlike most consolation games – would mean a lot, because the winner of the game will be the third of three teams from this tournament to qualify for next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.

The winner of this competition gets a bye into the Round of 16 of that tournament, while the runner-up and third-placed teams will have to play in the opening round.

Should they finish fourth in this Leagues Cup, Miami does still have two other chances to qualify for the Champions Cup.

They could win the US Open Cup — their semifinal at FC Cincinnati is coming up on Aug. 23 — or come from last place to win the MLS Cup, which after their performances in these first few games since the arrival of Messi and friends, suddenly doesn’t seem like such an outlandish proposition.

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