Circling the wagons: Herons try to keep playoff hopes alive until Martino, Messi, and Busquets join Inter Miami

Gerardo  'Tata'  Martino speaks at a news conference announcing his appointment as the new head coach for Inter Miami CF.
Gerardo 'Tata' Martino speaks at a news conference announcing his appointment as the new head coach for Inter Miami CF. / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Inter Miami play this season has been something like watching an old Western: The wagons are circled and burning; bodies litter the scene. The commanding officer is dead and the larger, better-armed enemy is preparing another charge. An inexperienced, but savvy, sergeant rallies the remaining troops — a few veterans and a handful of green young recruits — for what may be their last stand.

Cut to a hard-riding cavalry unit galloping to the rescue, a dashing general leading the way, saber drawn and held high. Beside him rides the famous war hero, decorated for valor and skill from many campaigns, his friend and sidekick, also an honored veteran, close at his side.

The general, of course, is Gerardo “Tata” Martino, most recently field marshal of Mexico’s national team. His storied career includes unmatched success in MLS with Atlanta United (with Josef Martinez, the Venezuelan striker pinned down with the rest of the Herons) and two stints as the commanding officer for legendary hero Lionel Messi, at Barcelona and with the Argentina national team. Sergio Busquets, Messi’s longtime teammate with La Blaugrana, is the trusted sidekick protecting his back.

The embattled sergeant? Interim head coach Javier Morales, of course, who took command after Phil Neville was felled. Starring as the brave but overmatched squad? Our squad, of course: Benjamin Cremaschi, Noah Allen, Ian Fray, David Ruiz, Drake Callender, Dixon Arroyo, Martinez, Leo Campana, Nico Stefanelli, Serhiy Kryvstov….

Many of our most experienced, most talented players have been wounded and are out of the fight — Gregore, Jean Mota, Franco Negri, Corentin Jean — and others are away on special duty — defenders Deandre Yedlin and Kamal Miller, on national team duty with the United States and Canada, respectively.

Will the reinforcements reach our heroes in time to salvage the season? That depends almost entirely on how much fight the ragged, injury-riddled Herons have left. Miami sits solidly in last place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, with 16 points from its first 19 matches. The Pink and Black are three points behind 14th-place Toronto FC and 10 points short of the ninth and final playoff spot in the conference, currently held by D.C. United.

Martino is in South Florida but cannot officially coach Inter Miami until he sorts out his work visa. The team has announced that Messi and Busquets will make their debuts for La Rosanegra in the July 21 Nations League match against Mexican side Cruz Azul.

The Herons have three MLS matches before the Messi Era begins, home tonight against the Columbus Crew (34 points, fourth place in the Eastern Conference), then away each of the next two Saturdays, at D.C. United and Western Conference leaders St Louis City (35 points).

It's a critical three-game stretch; the Herons can't reach playoff contention, even should they shock everyone with three wins. But three losses will almost certainly doom Miami's postseason hopes before the cavalry arrives.

Does anybody hear trumpets?