Messi availability for Toronto game to be assessed – Martino

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lionel Messi, who missed Inter Miami’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta on Saturday due to what coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino called “muscular fatigue,” trained Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s home game vs. Toronto FC.

However, Martino was noncommittal in a prepared statement to the media regarding whether Messi and Jordi Alba — who also missed Saturday’s defeat — would feature against the Canadian side.

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“Messi and [Jordi] Alba will train in the full session today with the team, and after that we’ll see if they’re available to play and to what extent,” Martino said.

“Beginning on Wednesday, we have six matches in 18 days, which is one match every three days, including the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.”

Messi trained twice last week after returning from World Cup qualifying duty with Argentina but did not make the trip to Atlanta as his team tasted defeat for the first time since his arrival.

After Wednesday’s contest with last-placed Toronto, Miami will play a road match against in-state rival Orlando on Sunday and then will take on Houston in that U.S. Open Cup final next Wednesday, Sept. 27. Martino said after Saturday’s loss that his rotations will be focused on that chance at a second trophy of the season.

“The final is just one game, and we’re in it,” Martino said after the loss to his former team, Atlanta United.

“It’s very tempting to play for a title. Right now we have seven to eight [MLS] games left. And the reality is that it’s not a guarantee we’ll make the playoffs. It doesn’t mean we won’t go for it, but it’s true that we’re focused on the 27th.”

Miami has picked up one trophy already this season thanks to its Leagues Cup title last month, a win that secured qualification for next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup as well as a bye in the opening round.

But before it can really focus on adding more silverware, Miami will be looking to continue its push for a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs with this game against Toronto FC and an away trip to Orlando City on Sunday evening.

Miami fell 2-0 in Toronto in their only previous meeting this season back on March 18, but that was long before the additions of former Barcelona legends Messi, Sergio Busquets and Alba, as well as the three key U22 initiative signings of Facundo Farías, Diego Gómez and Tomás Avilés.

In fact, only three starters from that defeat — goalkeeper Drake Callender, center back Serhiy Kryvtsov and forward Josef Martínez — are likely to have a decent chance of starting on Wednesday.

Also helping Miami’s cause in this matchup will be the fact that Toronto is in a massive slump.

The Reds have lost 9 of their past 10 MLS games — being outscored by a margin of 20 goals to eight over that span — and occupy the basement spot in the Eastern Conference where Miami once sat before its roster transformation.

That transformation was sparked by the signing of Messi, who has 11 goals and five assists in his 11 appearances for Miami.

Only one of those goals has come in his three MLS games (two starts), though, and Martino reiterated Tuesday that he is going to continue to be careful with Messi and his other aging stars.

“We have a lot of important matches in a short window of time, and one of my responsibilities as the coach is to care for my players and help them make the hard decisions that will give us the best chance of keeping everyone healthy during this busy run,” he said.

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