Lionel Messi left Inter Miami’s Wednesday game against Toronto FC in the 37th minute in apparent discomfort.
Messi, who missed two games last week due to fitness concerns, returned to Miami’s starting lineup. But with around 10 minutes remaining in a then-scoreless first half, he pulled off the captain’s armband and appeared to be frustrated. He was replaced by Robert Taylor.
As he slowly walked toward the sideline, Messi pulled down his socks, took off his shinguards and unlaced his boots. He initially headed to the bench, where he leaned back, seemingly exhausted or exasperated. He then walked back to the locker room with eight minutes remaining in first-half stoppage time, accompanied only by his bodyguard.
It was not immediately clear whether Messi was injured or fatigued. Miami head coach Tata Martino has spoken about managing Messi’s minutes with a view toward next Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final, but the substitution did not appear to be pre-planned.
“They had to come out, we’ll evaluate them in the coming days,” Martino said in a halftime interview of Messi and Jordi Alba, who also exited three minutes before Messi with an apparent hamstring injury.
Messi had been dealing with discomfort in a back-of-leg muscle, according to Gastón Edul, a prominent Argentinean reporter at TyC Sports. He felt the discomfort two weeks ago toward the end of Argentina‘s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador. He then sat out a second qualifier four days later in Bolivia. He returned to Miami, but also missed Saturday’s trip to Atlanta.
The plan seemed to be for Messi to return on Wednesday; rest again on Sunday, when Inter Miami travels to Orlando; and then start the Open Cup final against Houston. But on Wednesday, per Edul, Messi “requested the change earlier than planned.”
A few minutes after Messi headed down the tunnel, Facundo Farias scored to put Miami ahead 1-0. Taylor then scored a second after halftime to double the lead.
This is a developing story and will be updated.