Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home against New York City FC saw Inter Miami drop points for the third time in the last four games. The lone win in those games came against DC United in a performance where Luis Suarez scored two goals to get the three points. Yet, the pair of losses and the draw have not come against strong teams. Instead, the club lost handsomely on the road against the New York Red Bulls and at home against Montreal. The one consistency with these games is the lack of Lionel Messi in the Inter Miami squad.

The club has tried to ensure Messi is available for the big games throughout the season. For example, the ongoing CONCACAF Champions Cup yields a concerted effort out of Miami, as seen with its defeat of Nashville SC in the Champions Cup Round of 16. Miami manager Tata Martino has rested Messi to ensure he is fully fit for that competition. For example, he sat the Argentine against Montreal before starting Messi against Nashville three days later.

So far this season, Messi and Inter Miami have been prioritizing CONCACAF Champions Cup over MLS. As a result, many Inter Miami season ticket holders have missed seeing Messi play in as many games as usual (CONCACAF Champions Cup tickets are not included). Plus, MLS Season Pass subscribers have missed out on seeing Messi as much this season too. CONCACAF Champions Cup games have been shown exclusively on FOX Sports (in English), and not Apple TV.

Inter Miami needs Messi

If there is one thing resting Messi has shown, it is that the club is wildly dependent on the World Cup winner. That is not overly surprising. Teams regardless of talent or competition rely on their biggest players. Moreover, other clubs have used Messi as a means to success. Barcelona floundered without its captain in the squad. The season after he left, the Catalan club was ninth in the league at the one-third mark of the season.

The severity of those Barcelona struggles echoes onto Inter Miami currently. With Messi in the squad for specifically Major League Soccer games, Inter Miami is cruising. Two wins and a draw had Inter Miami shoot up the MLS table early on. Messi, unsurprisingly, had a major hand to play in that success. He assisted in the season-opening win against Real Salt Lake before scoring in second-half stoppage time at LA Galaxy. Then, he scored a brace at home against Orlando City.

Inter Miami is a different team without Lionel Messi

Without Messi’s calming presence and creative threat, Inter Miami is a shell of itself. Even in the win against DC United, Inter Miami’s goals came after scrappy moves forward, often on the counter-attack. One of the key differences is the fact that Inter Miami may hold possession, but Messi makes use of the ball. Having Sergio Busquets consistently in the midfield ensures Inter Miami has a base to build on. Likewise, Luis Suarez will provide a finishing touch.

Messi is the bridge that allows the possession of Inter Miami to become goals. In the 4-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls, Inter Miami held 70% of the ball, but Miami only mustered two shots on target. Likewise, Inter Miami dominated possession against Montreal. Yet, the two sides were level on shots, with Montreal winning by one goal.

That has been the best part of Messi’s skill set. His dribbling ability allows him to pick up the ball deep from someone like Sergio Busquets. He carries it forward into the opponent’s territory where he can deliver it to Luis Suarez or finish it himself. The lack of Messi separates Inter Miami into three categories. There is the forward group with Suarez and Leonardo Campana. They are separated for much of the game with the midfield and Sergio Busquets. Finally, the defensive crop of players, which has been struggling with and without Messi this season, is on an island behind the midfield.

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The negative outlook for Inter Miami

Inter Miami struggling while Messi misses games due to rest or slight injury provides a preview of how a more serious injury would hinder the club. In a way, Tata Martino is protecting the club from what it is currently suffering from. As Messi continues to age, his availability will continue to dwindle. MLS seasons, especially one when Inter Miami is looking to make a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, are long, and Miami could play as many as 60 games this season if all goes to plan. Having already missed over half of the games in MLS play, it will be interesting to see if Miami continues this trend.

Once the CONCACAF Champions Cup passes by early June, one would think Messi will become more available. However, commitments to the Argentina national team make the possibility of fielding Messi regularly in MLS unlikely. That will set up struggles for Inter Miami throughout the season in league play.

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