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Monday, December 11, 2023

Messi-less Inter Miami lose U.S. Open Cup on home soil

The Houston Dynamo took full advantage of Lionel Messi’s absence in the Inter Miami squad to win the U.S. Open cup 2-1 in Inter Miami’s home field in Florida.

Messi watched the match early today from the bench, as Griffin Dorsey and Amine Bassi scored first-half goals for Houston.

Josef Martinez scored in second-half stoppage time for Inter Miami, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Houston team from winning the trophy for the second time.

Houston first won the U.S. Open Cup in 2018.

The tournament dates back to 1913 and pits domestic teams — some even from the semi-pro level — from all sorts of U.S. leagues against one another. This year’s field was 99 teams.

Messi was not on Inter Miami’s active roster for the match because of a leg issue, marking his fourth absence in a span of his last five games combined for club and country.

And it’s unclear if Messi will continue to be sidelined when Inter Miami resumes its push to make Major League Soccer’s playoffs this weekend.

Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Wednesday night that “it wasn’t prudent” to consider playing Messi against Houston, though he indicated the team expects him to play on Saturday when MLS contests resume for the club. Messi will continue to be evaluated until then.

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The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was subbed out of a match against Toronto on Sept. 20 in the first half because of a leg issue, and did not play in the team’s 1-1 draw at Orlando on Sunday.

That was the third match he missed in its entirety — two for club, one for country — in the last two weeks, and missing a final on Wednesday suggests the problem could be worse than the team has suggested.

Also out for Wednesday: Jordi Alba, another of Inter Miami’s celebrated midseason acquisitions. Alba has a leg injury and his status for upcoming matches is unknown.

The 36-year-old Messi missed Argentina’s World Cup qualifying win at Bolivia on Sept. 12 and Inter Miami’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United on Sept. 16. He returned for the Sept. 20 match, but didn’t even make it to halftime, then sat out Sunday.

Inter Miami is still very much alive in the race to make MLS’ playoffs and has three matches looming in the coming days.

The team plays host to New York City FC on Saturday, at Chicago on Oct. 4 and returns home to face Cincinnati on Oct. 7.

It trails NYCFC by five points for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Wednesday, with two matches in hand — but that still makes Saturday’s game very important in the standings.

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