Nobody — nobody with a lick of sense — spends $1,500 for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and shares it with his poker buddies. Fine things should be nursed, conserved for special occasions.
I’d argue the same is true of world-class athletes. Lionel Messi may be the greatest soccer player of all time and supremely fit, but he’s still a 36-year-old human. He has limits, limits he reached while playing 11 matches across five weeks for Inter Miami (and a World Cup qualifier with Argentina last weekend).
In his last few matches, it was obvious Messi was gassed; still brilliant, but exhausted. And, while the Herons need Messi to help them chase down the ninth and final MLS Eastern Conference playoff spot, they need him at his most magnificent, not an exhausted journeyman trying to find a moment of glory.
After today, La Rosa Negra play a grueling seven matches in 21 days, take an 11-day break and finish the MLS regular season with home and way matches against Charlotte FC — matches that could decide whether the Herons’ season continues.
So, no, taking the Bolivia game off is not sufficient. Messi needs some time at home with his family, some tomato pizzas or whatever it takes to recharge. He’s likely to miss the first Charlotte match while on international duty with Argentina, so Inter Miami needs to win at least six of the upcoming seven-game stretch (which includes the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final against Houston on Sept. 27).
A well-rested Messi gives us a better chance to do that, something coach Tata Martino understands:
"We will be careful with him because we have a lot of important games in a short span. This is something that we knew would happen at some point…."- IMCF coach Tata Martino on resting Messi
And, despite the hype and headlines, Lionel Messi isn’t the only talented player on the IMCF roster. The Herons beat Sporting Kansas City with eight players away on international duty, more than any other MLS side. Martino’s players are confident and competent. They are better with Messi, but competitive without him.
Let Messi enjoy his pizza.