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Messi returns to Miami squad as sub vs. Cincy

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Messi returns to Miami squad as sub vs. Cincy

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Lionel Messi has returned to Inter Miami‘s matchday squad for the first time in five matches, after being named as a substitute for Saturday’s key MLS matchup at home to FC Cincinnati.

The 36-year-old has missed five of Inter Miami’s last six matches, plus another for Argentina in that time, after aggravating a scar tissue injury in his leg. He has not taken the field since making a 37-minute appearance against Toronto FC on Sept. 20, when the leg issue forced him to be taken off before halftime.

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Throughout the time, Miami has continued to describe Messi’s availability as a game-time decision. However, he trained in full with his Miami teammates on Thursday and Friday, suggesting he was in line for a return.

Miami has struggled without the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, failing to win in three MLS games and losing the U.S. Open Cup final to the Houston Dynamo.

Messi has 11 goals in 12 matches with Inter Miami. It is 8-0-4 when he plays; seven of those matches were on the team’s run to winning its first trophy by claiming the Leagues Cup, and another was in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal. Inter Miami is 1-3-2 in its six matches without Messi since he joined the club.

Miami’s faltering form without its talisman has left them failing an uphill challenge to make the MLS playoffs.

With three games remaining, including the matchup with Cincinnati, Miami sits 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, with the top nine making the postseason. The south Florida side must overcome a five-point gap to ninth-placed CF Montreal, though it does have the benefit of a game in hand.

Despite his lingering fitness concerns, Messi was called up by Argentina for World Cup qualifying matches against Paraguay on Oct. 12 and Peru on Oct. 17.

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