Lionel Messi’s 2024 preseason debut for Inter Miami was short-lived, but for good reason.
Inter Miami’s big four of Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba – all former Barcelona standouts – played only the first half of their first preseason game against the El Salvador national team Friday night. The match ended in a scoreless draw.
Messi is the biggest soccer draw in the world, and fans at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador, cheered loudly every time he touched the ball, and sent him off with waves as he left the Inter Miami bench in the 87th minute to head to the locker rooms.
Inter Miami will travel more than 25,000 miles during their preseason world tour before the 2024 MLS season officially begins. This was just the first leg of the trip.
Inter Miami’s next preseason game will be on Monday night against FC Dallas at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas.
Messi had two chances in the first half to treat fans with a goal, but came up short. He kicked a free kick into a crowd of defenders just before halftime, and missed a shot on goal in the 35th minute, stopped by El Savador goalie Mario Gonzalez.
Alba also missed a shot on goal, blocked by Gonzalez, while Suarez and Busquets also had their touches in the first half. But when the second half began, Inter Miami’s big four was substituted out.
So, Inter Miami coach Tata Martino was diligent with the lineup. Four other Inter Miami starters – Tomas Aviles, Justin Gressell, DeAndre Yedlin and Benjamin Cremaschi – were substituted out in the 63rd minute.
And Inter Miami finished playing with 10 men because Facundo Farias, a promising youngster who returned from last year’s roster, left with an apparent knee injury.
It was the first match Messi, Suarez, Busquets and Alba played together since 2020. It was also the second time Messi and his Inter Miami teammates wore their black jerseys since he joined the team last July.
Inter Miami’s Facundo Farias leaves with knee injury
One of Inter Miami’s young, promising players left the pitch due to injury.
Facundo Farias left with an apparent knee injury, and needed to be carried off on a stretcher just before the 70th minute of action. Inter Miami will finish this match with 10 players on the pitch, instead of 11.
Farias entered the game in place of Messi when the second half began. Now, his availability is in question likely for the rest of Inter Miami’s preseason, and possibly this season, depending on the severity.
Messi, Inter Miami’s star leave match at halftime
Messi’s night is over after the first half of action.
As the second half began, Inter Miami’s Big Four headed to the bench. Messi, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were all substituted out of Friday’s match against El Salvador at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador.
It might not be the amount of time fans in El Salvador would have loved to see, but Inter Miami’s worldwide preseason tour is jam-packed with travel in the next 20 days and the playing load Inter Miami will experience in 2024 will be arduous.
Messi was not on the pitch as the second half began, but walked out with Busquets and Alba next to him as they sat on Inter Miami’s bench.
Messi did not score in his action, missing a free kick in the final minute of the first half and another shot in the 35th minute. But Messi’s presence was felt: Every time he touched the ball, fans in El Salvador cheered loudly.
The stage was set again for Messi with a free kick. But it appeared Messi was not expecting how El Salvador was lined up defensively.
Messi kicked the ball low into the crowd of defenders, then walked off the pitch as halftime began with both sides scoreless.
Messi received a pass from Luis Suarez, and was challenged by a defender.
It appeared Messi’s left foot was kicked by the defender as they collided, leaving Messi briefly laying on the pitch.
Messi appeared fine after the interaction.
Now, the intrigue begins on how much Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Alba and others play with Inter Miami’s crazy preseason schedule in mind.
Jordi Alba misses in 40’: Inter Miami 0, El Salvador 0
Jordi Alba took his shot against the El Salvadorian goalie, but to no avail.
Mario Gonzalez, the goalie, made easy work of Alba’s shot.
Messi and Inter Miami are several minutes away from a scoreless first half.
Messi’s shot in the 35th minute was high and straight toward the El Salvadorian goalie, who blocked it away.
As Messi got the rebound, he was unable to get another clean shot off.
But Messi nearly had his captivating moment.
Sergio Busquets was the catalyst in the sequence, getting the ball to Messi with his stretched leg as he fell to the pitch.
Messi, Luis Suarez, Busquets and Jordi Alba have all had their touches in the opening 30 minutes of the match.
Hey, there’s something to be said for shaking off the offseason rust during the preseason, which Inter Miami began roughly a week ago.
Inter Miami has been slightly shaky on the back end: El Salvador has shot twice on goal, but missed both shots.
If you’re looking for Leo Messi, look for the highlight-colored cleats (although some Inter Miami teammates are also wearing the same color).
Messi posted two photos of himself on Instagram showing his yellow highlight Adidas cleats earlier this week, which he’s wearing during the El Salvador game.
Messi has touched the ball twice in the first two minutes and the crowd in El Salvador cheered loudly as soon as he had possession.
Messi’s first pass of the game was to Luis Saurez in the box. Suarez was unable to make a play on the ball, but it still brought excitement.
Messi was challenged by several El Salvadoran players near midfield and even made a play on one knee before play reset.
It’s surreal to see Messi, Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba on the same pitch again in 2024. But this is the new Inter Miami.
How to watch Messi, Inter Miami match vs. El Salvador
Messi in Inter Miami’s starting lineup vs. El Salvador
Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are all in the starting lineup for Inter Miami.
Here’s the starting lineup:
Inter Miami will wear their black jerseys for Friday’s game.
But there is a change: The front of Inter Miami’s jersey kit features the logo of the club’s foundation.
Inter Miami will wear this jersey for the El Salvador game as well as the FC Dallas preseason game on Jan. 22.
How much will Messi play?
Inter Miami will have preseason games in El Salvador and Dallas, then are going to Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In all, Inter Miami will fly more than 25,000 miles. So, some players’ playing time will be limited.
Inter Miami coach Tata Martino, unintentionally, caused a stir last week when he said some players will have limited minutes in the first two preseason games, the second coming against FC Dallas at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas on Jan. 22.
“We have to balance how much each player participates,” Martino said during MLS media day on Jan. 11. “The games in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Japan were planned from the end of last season, and we will be ready for those. The question is how we manage the first two games against El Salvador and Dallas because those are so soon. We will have to make decisions about how many minutes certain players can play in those games.”