Lionel Messi could make his first start for Inter Miami following his dramatic winning-goal debut when his new team face Atlanta United in the Leagues Cup on Tuesday, coach Gerard Martino said.
Messi made an explosive impact after coming on as a 54th-minute substitute in the 2-1 win over Mexican club Cruz Azul on Friday, curling in a stoppage-time free-kick for the victory.
Miami’s Argentine head coach Martino opted to limit the minutes for Messi and Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets on Friday but with both players making such a strong impression, Martino said Monday he is tempted to start the pair against his former club on Tuesday.
“Well, it is very likely that both Leo and Busi will play more time. I even think that if they are going to play more (then) we will change the dynamic and they will go maybe from the beginning. But we all know that when Leo starts, that amount of time we would be talking about is 90 minutes,” said the former Barcelona and Argentina coach.
“But everything will depend on how they feel, it is only the second game that they are going to play,” he said.
A win in Tuesday’s game at DRV PNK Stadium would ensure Inter progress to the knockout stage of the new tournament for Major League Soccer and Mexican Liga MX clubs.
MLS has paused play in its regular season until August 20 meaning Messi and company would have nearly a month without a scheduled game should they fail to progress.
Martino said that his players are still working on the changes they need to make to get the best out of their two new star team-mates, who will soon be joined by Spanish former Barca full-back Jordi Alba.
“We had already started working on changing the way we play but it is clear that with Busquets, Jordi and Leo we will have to (further) modify the way that we play and we also have to work on raising the level in general,” said Martino.
– ‘Pretty humble guy’ –
The hype around Messi’s move to the USA has only intensified after Friday’s premiere but inside the locker-room, goalkeeper Drake Callender says the players have been trying to make the team dynamic as normal as possible for the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner, who has impressed them with his down to earth approach.
“I didn’t really know what to expect because I’ve never been around a player with that capacity before but he’s a pretty humble guy. He’s chill,” he said.
“He’s still trying to get a feel of how everything functions over here. So I think for myself as well as some of the other players, we are just making him feel welcome, making him feel like he’s one of our teammates and just making him feel comfortable here.
“I try to chat with him when I can to make him feel like he’s a part of the team. Again, just treat him like one of my teammates. I think he’s somebody who, wherever he goes, there are all these cameras and lights. People want him to sign things and people want to talk to him. So I just try and be as normal as I possibly can,” Callender added.
While Messi inevitably grabbed the headlines, former Barcelona midfielder Busquets also looked instantly at ease with his new team, reforging his old understanding with the Argentine.
Canadian central defender Kamal Miller said that having one of the finest passers of the ball in front of him requires a different approach to distribution from the back.
“Definitely with a player of that quality, we always want to look to go through him. He can thread the needle and find the killer pass at any time, so it’s something that we look for a lot.
And having a guy with that quality, it attracts so much attention, it opens up space for everyone else, so I think we’re all going to benefit from it and hopefully it continues to go like it did on Friday,” he said.