FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi returned to Inter Miami's lineup on Wednesday night. It was a short-lived comeback.
Messi was subbed off in the 37th minute of Inter Miami's match against Toronto, after spending a few minutes laboring with what appeared to be a leg issue. He was stretching during play, then eventually took off his captain's armband and simply waited for play to stop so he could depart.
He didn’t even wait to come off the field before unlacing his cleats, lowering his socks and removing his shin guards.
The 36-year-old had missed two matches — one for club, the other for country — in recent days, after sitting out Argentina’s World Cup qualifying win at Bolivia on Sept. 12, and Inter Miami’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United this past Saturday.
Fatigue was cited in both cases. Messi has not been made available for comment in recent days to discuss his status.
Wednesday’s match was the first of what will be six for Inter Miami in a span of 17 days. The team next plays at Orlando on Sunday, then will host Houston in the U.S. Open Cup final on Sept. 27. That will be followed by three more MLS matches in short order: against New York City FC on Sept. 30, at Chicago on Oct. 4 and playing host to Cincinnati on Oct. 7.
Miami entered Wednesday seven points behind DC United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with two matches in hand.
The Atlanta game halted what had been a 12-match unbeaten streak for Inter Miami since Messi debuted for the team against Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup on July 21. Inter Miami had gone 8-0-4 in those 12 matches, with three of those games that ended as ties being outcomes for the team to celebrate after advancing on penalty kicks — two in the Leagues Cup, including the final against Nashville for the Miami club’s first-ever trophy, and another in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
Messi has now appeared in 12 matches for Miami, most of them in Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup competition. He had 11 goals and five assists in those appearances, and one goal with two assists in four MLS matches.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press