Even in the absence of Lionel Messi, Inter Miami kept its MLS Cup Playoff hopes alive with a draw against in-state rivals Orlando City. Even if Inter Miami held a second-half lead, the draw keeps the chances of reaching the playoffs possible. Yet, the focus now turns to the US Open Cup, where Inter Miami can pick up a second trophy this season.

If Inter Miami wants any shot of making it three trophies this season, all points are important. The club did drop two this weekend, but that was without its three marquee signings of the summer. Messi and Jordi Alba missed the game due to injury. Sergio Busquets was also not in the matchday squad.

That did not stop homegrown talent David Ruiz from finding the opener at Exploria Stadium on Sunday. Ruiz pounced on a rebound from Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to put the visitors ahead in the 52nd minute. That lead lasted all of 14 minutes. Duncan Maguire continued a strong campaign by scoring his ninth goal in 25 league games to bring Orlando City level. The 22-year-old is second on his team in scoring this season. Only Facundo Torres has more Orlando City goals with 12.

Neither side found a breakthrough after that. The 1-1 draw ensures both clubs picked up a point in this in-state derby. That was always going to be a tough task for Inter Miami without its star players. Orlando currently sits second in the eastern conference table.

Inter Miami keeps playoff hunt alive with draw

Inter Miami is not far out of a place in the playoffs. The teams finishing eighth and ninth in each conference enter a one-off wild card round to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs proper. With five games remaining, Inter Miami is just five points outside of that position. Also, the Herons have games in hand on the two teams occupying eighth and ninth currently, Montreal and NYCFC.

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Inter Miami manager Tata Martino said the draw pleases him. It may not be the perfect result. However, there were chances where Miami could have picked up no points at all.

“I think we could have lost the game at some point, but at another point it looked like we could win it,” Martino said. “Taking all that into account, we will later see if the point actually served our objective. But if you think about it as an isolated match, the truth is that I’m very satisfied because we made a joint effort tonight.”

Now, Martino turns his attention to the US Open Cup Final against the Houston Dynamo. The status of Messi and Jordi Alba is still unclear. After picking up their injuries against Toronto, Martino did not think either was overly serious. Yet, he did stress that if it were an issue, he would not risk playing them to make the injuries more severe. Inter Miami still has a chance at the playoffs. Messi, Alba and Busquets would play a key role in getting Miami into that stage.

The US Open Cup against Houston is Wednesday night at 8:30. Coverage is available on the CBS Sports Network and Paramount+.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire