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Inter Miami vs. Orlando City: Tata Martino hopes to prevent Messi fatigue in busy March

The MLS season has just begun, and already, Inter Miami coach Tata Martino is tasked with finding a way to keep Lionel Messi from being overworked with nine games over the next 28 days.

Messi, who played full games against Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy, is expected to start in the cross-state “Clasico” against Orlando City at home Saturday afternoon, but Martino hopes the 36-year-old Argentine star won’t have to run quite as much as he did the first two games.

Martino said Messi expended too much energy in those matches and the team is working on ways of reducing his workload by improving ball movement among his teammates and letting him focus on the finishing touches.

Martino said that will be vitally important as Inter Miami’s jam-packed March schedule includes five league games and a home-and-away CONCACAF Champions Cup series against Nashville. Messi has also been called up for a pair of Copa America warmup matches with the Argentine national team March 22 against El Salvador in Philadelphia and March 26 against Costa Rica in Los Angeles.

Assuming Messi plays both of those Argentina matches, he would likely skip Miami’s road game against the New York Red Bulls on March 23.

“I’ve been discussing some things with him [about his workload] and what concerns me the most is the day-to-day and how he is recovering game by game,” Martino said of Messi. “I feel that in these first two matches, we have relied on him too much, which has caused him significant fatigue in both games.”

Martino said he hopes Messi and his teammates can play on Saturday like they did in their 3-1 Leagues Cup win over Orlando City last August. Messi scored in the 7th and 72nd minutes.

“In the Leagues Cup game against Orlando, he often found the ball in the final quarter of the field at the time to finish the play, he scored inside the goal area,” Martino said of Messi. “That’s what we need to get back to, the team finding him to make plays and sometimes finding him for the finishes.

“I feel that in these last two matches, he has expended too much energy, and that is also my responsibility to make sure the team operates in a way that we can use him in the best way.”

Inter Miami head coach Tata Martino arrives to Chase Stadium before his team plays their MLS season opener against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Inter Miami head coach Tata Martino arrives to Chase Stadium before his team plays their MLS season opener against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The team may get a fresh pair of legs to help deliver the ball to Messi on Saturday as 21-year-old Argentine midfielder Federico Redondo was finalizing his visa paperwork and might be available for the Orlando game, Martino said. If he is not eligible Saturday, the hope is he could be ready for the Champions Cup opener Thursday on the road in Nashville.

Martino was a teammate of Redondo’s father, Fernando, when they both played for Spanish club Tenerife in 1991. The elder Redondo went on to star at Real Madrid and AC Milan.

Asked if he sees any similarity between Federico and his father, Martino said: “I would rather not make comparisons, especially with the kind of career Fernando had, it creates a huge responsibility for his son. But he is a young man who has talent and a mental capacity to be a key player in games, in training, he speaks English well and communicates with everyone. These days he was with us already were enough for him to integrate with the group.”

Argentine midfielder Federico Redondo signed with Inter Miami through the 2027 MLS season, the club announced on Feb. 23, 2024.
Argentine midfielder Federico Redondo signed with Inter Miami through the 2027 MLS season, the club announced on Feb. 23, 2024.

Inter Miami expects a hard-fought physical game on Saturday against Orlando, which tied Montreal 0-0 in its MLS opener. Like Miami, Orlando is loaded with Latin American players, including Cesar Araujo (Uruguay), Martin Ojeda (Argentina), Ivan Angulo (Colombia), Wilder Cartagena (Peru), Facundo Torres (Uruguay), Luis Muriel (Colombia), and recent addition Nico Lodeiro (Uruguay), who won two MLS Cup titles with the Seattle Sounders.

“It’s an opponent that works very hard, very strong physically and psychologically, the games against them are always very difficult and they have important players and have added more,” Martino said. “We’ll see what lineup they go with, as they have a CONCACAF Champions Cup match Tuesday against Tigres.”

Midfielder David Ruiz, who grew up in Little Havana and played in the Inter Miami youth academy, said South Florida and Orlando teams always battle for state bragging rights.

“The passion between everybody was great, we knew as little kids that it was a big game, and after every win, you’d post on TikTok or Instagram `We rule Florida,’ so it’s always been a big rivalry,” Ruiz said. “Always intense and physical.”

Martino said he has great respect for Orlando coach Oscar Pareja and his coaching staff, pointing out that everywhere the Colombian coach has gone his teams have been strong.

Because the teams are in-state rivals, fans and media call the game a “Clasico,” and the rivalry between the fan groups is intense. Last summer a Messi mural in Miami was defaced with purple paint (Orlando City color). Still, Martino said it will take time for that rivalry to build to the level of Barcelona vs. Real Madrid or Argentine clasicos such as River Plate vs. Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys vs. Rosario Central.

A Lionel Messi-themed mural in Wynwood painted by Chris Moramarco and other members of inter Miami’s Vice City 1896 supporters group was vandalized early Wednesday morning, July 26, 2023.
A Lionel Messi-themed mural in Wynwood painted by Chris Moramarco and other members of inter Miami’s Vice City 1896 supporters group was vandalized early Wednesday morning, July 26, 2023.

“Fundamentally what’s missing is history,” Martino said. “But I think this is the same in all of MLS because it’s a young league. Maybe the Los Angeles game (Galaxy vs. LAFC) is farthest along in that respect. But nothing comparable to (smiling) the one in Rosario.”

How to Watch: The Inter Miami vs. Orlando City match will broadcast on FOX and is also available on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

Upcoming Inter Miami schedule:

Saturday, vs. Orlando City, 4:30 p.m.

Thursday, at Nashville SC, 9 p.m. (Concacaf Champions League)

March 10, vs. CF Montréal, 5 p.m.

March 13, vs. Nashville SC, 8:15 p.m. (Concacaf Champions League)

March 16, at D.C. United, 2 p.m.

March 23, at New York Red Bulls, 2 p.m.

March 30, vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

Upcoming Argentina schedule

Argentina vs. El Salvador in Philadelphia, March 22.

Argentina vs. Costa Rica in Los Angeles March 26.

Argentina vs. Ecuador in Chicago, June 9.

Argentina vs. Guatemala in Landover, Maryland, June 14.