Messi’s potential return sparks hope for Inter Miami playoff bid vs Cincinnati

Inter Miami is eagerly anticipating the return of soccer superstar Lionel Messi to boost their chances in the Major League Soccer playoffs. Messi has been sidelined due to an injury sustained while playing for Argentina, limiting his playtime for Miami to just 37 minutes since September 3. During his absence, Miami has struggled, enduring a three-game winless streak and losing the US Open Cup final.

Although Messi has been participating in recent training sessions, Inter Miami’s assistant coach, Javier Morales, has not revealed whether Messi will start in the upcoming match against Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati. The decision is pending, but Messi’s daily progress is evident.

Inter Miami’s playoff aspirations are hanging by a thread, as Gerardo Martino’s team currently ranks second to last in the Eastern Conference, trailing the final playoff spot by five points. Their fate is no longer in their hands, depending on favorable outcomes from other teams’ matches.

In contrast, FC Cincinnati is at the top of the league, having already secured the Supporters’ Shield and top seed status for the playoffs. The team recently rested key players in a match against the New York Red Bulls, resulting in a 2-1 defeat. Coach Pat Noonan faces a dilemma as the international break approaches, deciding whether to reintroduce starters for the upcoming clash with Miami.

As the regular season nears its end, several playoff spots are still up for grabs. Securing a top-four finish is crucial for home-field advantage in the first round of the postseason. In the Eastern Conference, two playoff spots are still open, while three remain unclaimed in the West.

The playoff format includes a single-game wildcard match between the eighth and ninth-placed teams in each conference. This is followed by best-of-three series in the first round, with the top four teams enjoying home-field advantage for the first and, if necessary, third games. Subsequently, the conference semifinals, finals, and MLS Cup itself will be single-game affairs.

Inter Miami’s chances of extending their season into the playoffs seem slim, but the potential return of Lionel Messi provides a glimmer of hope in their quest for a postseason berth.

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