Here’s the latest on Messi’s return to Inter Miami, whether he will play vs. Atlanta

From the moment Lionel Messi signed with Inter Miami in early summer, there was speculation that he would sit out games on artificial turf, including the upcoming road game against Atlanta United on Saturday.

Artificial surfaces are rare in Europe and South America, seen as a greater injury risk, and it was unknown whether the 36-year-old Argentine would be willing to play in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium during the final stretch of the regular season.

He put those concerns to rest in an August interview, saying: “The truth is my youth was spent on artificial turf, my whole life was on that pitch back then. It’s been a while since I’ve played on that surface, but I have no problem adapting myself to it again.”

That was welcome news to fans who have paid big money to see the Inter Miami vs. Atlanta United match (5 p.m., Apple TV). The normal capacity for MLS games at Mercedes-Benz stadium is 42,000, but the club expands the venue to full capacity (71,000) for special games, and this one classifies.

Upper-deck 300-level seats are listed for a minimum of $159 and club seats as high as $4,200.

It remains to be seen whether Messi will start and how many minutes he will play.

He is in Bolivia with Argentina’s national team for a World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday night, but his status for that game was unknown as Monday afternoon. The game is being played in La Paz at an altitude of 11,932 feet, Argentine players are carrying portable oxygen devices, and Messi exited the game against Ecuador a few minutes early last Thursday, citing exhaustion after scoring the lone goal in the 1-0 victory.

Messi played 11 games in 44 days with Inter Miami and started nine of those, going the full 90 minutes, plus added time and three penalty kick shootouts. He scored twice in the Leagues Cup game against Atlanta in late July. There is a chance Messi will not play, or play sparingly, against Bolivia in order to return to South Florida rested for the late-season playoff push.

Messi is one of nine Inter Miami players on national team duty, and all are expected to be back in time for the Atlanta game, as is Atlanta’s assist leader Thiago Almada, who is Messi’s teammate with Argentina.

Although Miami was able to beat Sporting Kansas City 3-2 on Saturday without him, which boosted his teammates’ collective confidence, Martino said any team is obviously better with him. He has scored 11 goals over 11 games with Miami.

“What he did the other night (scoring for Argentina), instead of it being a Hollywood movie or Miami movie, it’s a Buenos Aires movie,” Martino said of Messi’s heroics. “That’s what he does. Always. A different movie title, different movie, different shirt, but doing the same things he has done for 20 years.”

Miami is unbeaten over 12 games since Messi’s arrival — eight Cup games and four league games. During those four recent MLS games, the team won three and tied one, narrowing the gap from 12 points off the playoff line to six points shy with eight games remaining.

Inter Miami sits in 14th place in the East with 28 points and ninth-place D.C. United holds the final playoff spot with 34 points.

Callender, Cremaschi on bench for USA-Oman

Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender and midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi will be rostered for the U.S. national team friendly against Oman on Tuesday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, but neither is expected to start, according to coach Gregg Berhalter.

“Benja fits in really well, he’s a great kid, he learns really quickly and is adapting really well to the speed of the game,” Berhalter said on Monday. “He’s not going to start the game. We’d love to get him a debut, we just have to see how the substitutions work.”

Berhalter said Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest) will start in goal, but Callender is in the mix going forward: “He’s having a great season. It’s been fun watching him. He’s been dominant in the goal, especially early when he was forced into a lot of action.”

Campana named MLS Player of the Week

Inter Miami forward Leo Campana was named MLS Player of the Week after scoring two goals in a 3-2 victory over Sporting Kansas City at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday. It was the fourth multi-goal game of the Ecuadorean striker’s career, which ranks as the second most in club history, behind Gonzalo Higuaín (five). In 2023, Campana has scored a team-high seven goals.

US Open Cup Final Tickets

Inter Miami will play for its second Cup in a month on Sept. 27 when it faces Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final at DRV PNK Stadium at 8:30 p.m. The U.S. Open Cup, which began in 1914, is one of the oldest soccer tournaments in the world. Tickets start at $224 and are available through TicketMaster.