(Photo credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
Lionel Messi will be a game-time decision when Inter Miami attempt to win their second major trophy of the season in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup final against the Houston Dynamo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Messi has played only 37 of the past 360 minutes of league play for Inter Miami.
First, he missed a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City while on international duty for Argentina's national team.
When he returned, he was dealing with muscle fatigue that also kept him out of one of Argentina's matches.
He played most of the first half last Wednesday against Toronto FC before coming off with a noticeable limp, and he was absent in Sunday's 1-1 draw against Orlando City.
But the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner nearly single-handedly lifted Miami to the 2023 Leagues Cup championship earlier this summer, scoring a tournament-leading 10 goals.
And on Tuesday, manager Tata Martino admitted it's possible he will push his star to return a bit earlier than he might if this were simply a league game.
"We will wait until tomorrow," Martino said, according to an interpretation from Goal.com. "If it's not a final, we're not taking any risks. This is a final and it could bring you a title. It could take 90 or 120 minutes, but if it's another game we wouldn't risk it."
Houston will be attempting to win its second U.S. Open Cup in five years, with the realization that this one could do a lot more to boost the profile of the club than its 2018 title.
Mexican midfielder Hector Herrera and Panamanian midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla have led the Dynamo through a promising first MLS regular season under manager Ben Olsen.
Houston sits fourth in the Western Conference, in good position to secure its first playoff berth since 2017. But Olsen knows defeating Messi's Miami could go a long way to getting the nation's fourth-largest city interested in MLS again.
"The hoopla of Inter Miami and the star players and the eyes that will be on the game -- great," Olsen said. "We need visibility. This club needs more of that. I think people undersell us. We're trying to win back fans here and restart the culture that maybe has been a little bit off for the last decade.
"This is just another chance for us to move forward as a club and reward the fans that have been coming out all year."
--Field Level Media