FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lionel Messi will wear the captain’s armband and could potentially start in Tuesday’s home Leagues Cup group match against Atlanta United FC, Inter Miami CF head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Monday.
“Yes, he was our captain last game as well,” Martino said when asked at Monday’s news conference if the 36-year-old would lead the squad against the coach’s former team.
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“It is very likely that both Messi and Busi [Sergio Busquets] will play longer, even from the beginning. Everything will depend on how they feel. It’s just their second game.”
The former Barcelona teammates made their debuts in Friday’s 2-1 opening group stage win over Cruz Azul, going nearly 40 minutes each in a game Messi punctuated by scoring one of his trademark free kicks at the end to claim all three points.
When asked if he was shocked or surprised at the way Friday night’s game ended, Martino said: “It is something habitual from him [greatness], and because it is habitual, we try to normalize things that are not common.”
Thanks to that storybook victory, just gaining a point against Atlanta on Tuesday will secure a spot in the Leagues Cup round of 32, while a win would mean Miami would most likely host the winner of the South 2 group featuring Orlando City SC, Charlotte FC and Santos Laguna.
DeAndre Yedlin was the previous captain after replacing Gregore, who got injured in mid-March.
However, before Martino can look ahead to a potential knockout game with Inter Miami, he has the task of facing the club he built from an expansion team to MLS Cup champions in just two years before departing to coach the Mexico men’s national team.
“Atlanta is a place that is very important in my heart and a place I enjoyed,” Martino said. “Not just the club, but the two years in the city. It is a game that has a special factor.”
Miami striker Josef Martínez was a key contributor in Atlanta’s 2018 title run, and will be facing his former team for a second time if he gets onto the field Tuesday.
The 30-year-old Venezuelan scored both goals in Miami’s 2-1 win back in early May, and Martino thinks he might see something more special from him soon.
“In these last two weeks, I have found the Josef of Atlanta,” he said of his target man, who scored 111 times in 158 appearances for their former club. It’s clear that Martino has also found — in just a few training sessions and one match — what the arrival of Messi can bring to his struggling squad, not just with his actual play on the ball.
“What was seen of Messi in the game trying to order his teammates, is what he has been doing in the training sessions,” Martino said. “He helps and talks about football with his teammates.”
Speaking of teammates, another of Messi’s former Barcelona buddies, 34-year-old left back Jordi Alba, could feature in Tuesday’s game in some capacity after arriving in town only last week.
And the rumors about veteran Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez continued to fly Sunday when Inter Miami announced it had traded $150,000 in allocation money to San Jose in return for an international roster spot.
But with the hefty buyout current club Grêmio has in Suárez’s contract and the fact that time is running out before the transfer window closes in just over a week on Aug. 2, it seems that spot will instead likely to go to 20-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder Facundo Farias, with whom the team reportedly has a verbal agreement in place.
“What we are doing is we are working on the definitive decisions about the roster,” Martino said when asked about Sunday’s move. “Between this transfer window and December-January, we have to put together a definitive team and will be managing all the variables with our directors.”