Lionel Messi was rested, and Inter Miami lost for the first time since the Argentine joined the team. On Saturday, a 5-2 thrashing against Atlanta United ended their playoff ambitions.
After a busy stretch of games after making his Miami debut in late July, Messi did not travel to Atlanta.
After the loss, Miami coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino claimed that Messi had been experiencing “muscle fatigue” and that it would have been “very reckless” to have started him in this match.
The 36-year-old sat out Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match between Argentina and Bolivia in La Paz, but he nevertheless observed his teammates from the bench.
On September 7, after scoring the game-winning goal in the last minutes of a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, Messi was replaced, although there have been no reports of an injury.
Miami upset Sporting Kansas City 3-2 the week before without Messi, but this time it was an entirely different scenario for Martino’s squad.
Ecuadorian striker Leonardo Campana, who is in excellent form, gave Miami the lead in the 25th minute with a beautifully executed goal.
After Dixon Arroyo’s shot hit the crossbar, Campana collected the ball, used a deft touch to take Miles Robinson out of the picture, and then volleyed the ball home with his left foot.
But Atlanta, which is sixth in the Eastern Conference, responded forcefully, scoring three goals in the space of eight minutes.
The assistant referee determined that French player Tristan Muyamba’s glancing header, which touched the inside of the post, had crossed the line.
Atlanta took the lead five minutes later when Brazilian winger Xande Silva dribbled to the byline and Miami defender Kamal Miller turned his pull-back into his own net.
The furious Atlanta assault took full advantage of Miami’s defense, which was in disarray without former Spain international left-back Jordi Alba. Brooks Lennon added the third in the 44th minute with a brilliantly executed shot after being set up by Caleb Wiley.
The barrage of goals gave Miami much to think about at the break, and they came back strong, scoring in the 54th minute.
Referee Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot after Tomas Aviles’ shot touched Atlanta defender Luis Abram in the arm, and Campana’s calm strike sent Brad Guzan the wrong way.