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HomeSportsMessi's potential return sparks hope for Inter Miami playoff bid vs Cincinnati

Messi’s potential return sparks hope for Inter Miami playoff bid vs Cincinnati

Inter Miami´s Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi watches the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match between Inter Miami CF and New York City FC from the stands at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 30, 2023. AFP/File 

Lionel Messi’s potential return to action in Major League Soccer is generating optimism for Inter Miami, who are desperately seeking a playoff boost. 

Messi has been sidelined due to an injury sustained while on international duty with Argentina, playing only 37 minutes for his club since September 3. Miami has struggled during his absence, enduring a three-game winless streak and losing the US Open Cup final.

Despite Messi’s recent training sessions, Inter Miami’s assistant coach, Javier Morales, remained tight-lipped about whether the Argentine superstar would start against Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati. The decision is still pending, but every day sees Messi’s progress.

Inter Miami’s playoff hopes hang by a thread, with Gerardo Martino’s side currently second to last in the Eastern Conference, five points adrift of the final playoff spot. Their destiny is no longer within their control, relying on favorable results from other teams.

In contrast, FC Cincinnati leads the league, having already secured the Supporters’ Shield and top seed status for the playoffs. The team rested key players in their recent match against the New York Red Bulls, suffering a 2-1 defeat. Coach Pat Noonan faces a dilemma as the international break approaches, deciding whether to recall starters for the upcoming clash with Miami.

With the regular season nearing its end, several playoff spots are still up for grabs, and securing a top-four finish is a significant factor for home-field advantage in the first postseason round.

In the Eastern Conference, two playoff spots remain open, while three are yet to be claimed in the West. 

The postseason format includes a single-game wildcard match between the eighth and ninth-placed teams in each conference, followed by best-of-three series in the first round, with the top four teams having home field advantage for the first and, if needed, third games. Subsequently, the conference semifinals, finals, and MLS Cup itself will be single-game affairs.

Inter Miami’s hopes of extending their season into the playoffs appear slim, but the potential return of Lionel Messi offers a glimmer of hope in their pursuit of a postseason berth. 

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