FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lionel Messi says he will play in Inter Miami’s season finale on Saturday, although the club hasn’t confirmed that is the actual plan, AP reported.
Messi — who scored both goals for Argentina in its 2-0 World Cup qualifying win at Peru on Tuesday night — wasn’t in the lineup for Inter Miami’s final home game of its Major League Soccer season against Charlotte on Wednesday night.
Messi, dressed casually in a white T-shirt, was in the Inter Miami bench area with his teammates for Wednesday’s match after returning from Peru earlier in the day.
Not playing on Wednesday was expected. This part was not: Messi told reporters in Peru that he wants to play once more for Inter Miami before his inaugural MLS season ends, which means he’s intending to play in Charlotte on Saturday — even though that match will be played on artificial turf.
“I’ll play the game that is left now,” said Messi, who played all 90 minutes of Tuesday’s match — a good sign after battling a leg injury for the last several weeks.
The notion of Messi playing might not necessarily be what Charlotte wanted to hear, given what will be at stake on the final day of the regular season. Charlotte wasted a pair of one-goal leads and tied Miami 2-2 on Wednesday, missing out on a chance to climb from 12th to 8th in the Eastern Conference. The top nine teams in each conference make the playoffs.
Enzo Copetti and Kerwin Vargas scored for Charlotte. Nicolas Stefanelli and Robbie Robinson scored for Inter Miami, which could still thwart Charlotte’s playoff plans with a win on Saturday depending on how other results on Decision Day in MLS goes. Charlotte stayed 12th, and now needs a win and some help to make the postseason.
Inter Miami was eliminated from MLS playoff contention earlier this month. Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said earlier this week that there was “a chance” Messi could play Saturday, and that the team would evaluate where he’s at physically upon his return to Miami following the qualifying games with Argentina.
He said after Wednesday’s match that he was sticking to that approach. Martino heard what Messi said, but didn’t fully commit to his captain playing Saturday.
“Tomorrow we’ll talk with him, but the most important thing here is the 90 minutes that were played … that he felt well, and he was confident and not worried about his injury,” Martino said. “We’ll talk again to see if he’s ready to play again.”
Even the hope of Messi playing seems to be a big boost to ticket sales. Charlotte has sold more than 60,000 tickets in its 74,000-seat stadium for Saturday’s match, The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday.
Inter Miami’s home finale came on the same day the MLS Players Association revealed that Messi’s annualized compensation from his MLS contract with the team is just over $20.4 million. That’s more than the entire payroll of all but three other MLS teams and twice as much as every player combined on Orlando City.
The 36-year-old star has a $12 million base salary and total guaranteed compensation of $20,446,667, the players association said in its 2023 salary update. Inter Miami says Messi’s contract, a 2 1/2-year deal that runs through the 2025 season, is worth about $150 million. The MLS figures do not account for any additional agreements with the team or its affiliates, or for any performance bonuses.