To be clear, I didn’t think Lionel Messi would start until the Major League Soccer season resumed in late August.
But, as with a lot of things… I could be wrong.
Reports suggest Herons’ manager Tata Martino is putting Messi into the starting lineup Tuesday when Inter takes on Atlanta United in the second group stage match of the Leagues Cup.
Let’s get into whether it happens and if it’s a good idea.
Still No Confirmation on Messi Starting For Inter Miami
The atmosphere around DRV PNK Stadium for Messi’s debut against Cruz Azul was nothing short of electric.
Messi, Sergio Busquets and Josef Martinez subbed on for the Herons in the second half's early stages, and Messi started to make a big impact.
He immediately started to create chances that were sorely lacking in the first half.
That included connecting with Martinez in a goal that was waved offsides in the middle of the half.
Of course, we all know what happened in extra time after Messi was fouled and curled a free kick into the top 90 of the goal, giving the Herons their first win in who knows how many matches.
But that started to fuel speculation of what Messi’s contribution would be in Inter’s second Leagues Cup match against Atlanta United on Tuesday.
HITC is already reporting that Martino has decided to include Messi in the starting XI for his second match as a Heron.
It’s also possible that Busquets will get a starting nod in the center on Tuesday.
However, to be clear, the site doesn’t have any official quotes from the club or Martino confirming the decision to start Messi or Busquets against Atlanta, so take it for what you will.
Why Rush? Starting Messi Now Isn’t An Absolute
Keep in mind that Messi has been with the club for all of a week after officially joining last Sunday and participating in his first practice the following Tuesday.
This is after coming off a vacation with family and playing a full season with Paris-St. Germain.
While Inter Miami struggled… and that is putting it mildly… in its first half with Cruz Azul on Friday, starting Messi against Atlanta isn’t completely necessary.
For one, the win Friday put the Herons in the driver’s seat of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Leagues Cup… meaning there is the possibility of more matches before the league season resumes later in August.
Plus, you have the U.S. Open Cup semifinals at FC Cincinnati which would provide Messi with more time to gel with the team and define a stronger starting role.
Honestly, Messi starting against Atlanta United with Busquets and, possibly Martinez, is a frightening prospect because, as Friday illustrated, the team does seem better with him in the lineup.
And the Five Stripes haven’t encountered anything like Messi or Busquets in play up to now, so it does give Inter Miami a clear advantage.
But there are a lot of risks starting Messi now.
For one, as we saw with Ian Fray, injuries are a big risk — especially with as physical as Cruz Azul played against the Herons. I know that Fray’s injury was a non-contact injury, but still.
Los Cementeros doubled (and even tripled) down on Messi when he touched the ball. Don’t think Atlanta United won’t do the same thing.
I’m also aware of the fact that even if he just subs in, the chance for injury is still there but, statistically, it’s much less in 40 minutes of play than it is in 90 minutes.
No matter, to me it doesn’t make a ton of sense to rush Messi into the starting XI, unless that is what he wants and he feels physically ready to do that.
Regardless, I expect Tuesday’s matchup with Atlanta United to be just as exciting as Messi’s debut against Cruz Azul.