Messi practices in full, nearing Miami return

Lionel Messi‘s absence from Inter Miami‘s lineup may be coming to an end.

The Argentine World Cup winner, who has missed Miami’s last four games with a leg injury, returned to full practice on Thursday and Friday ahead of Saturday’s MLS game at home to FC Cincinnati.

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“You have to evaluate him … He trained [Thursday] and will train [Friday]. But every day it gets better.” Miami assistant coach Javier Morales told reporters in Spanish before Friday’s practice.

The club hinted at a positive outcome later in the day, using social media to post “Nos vemos mañana” — translation, “see you tomorrow” with a photo of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.

The team did not elaborate about a possible return to the lineup for Messi.

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

If he plays, it could conceivably be Messi’s final home appearance — or final appearance, period — of the season for Inter Miami, the team he joined in July after agreeing to a 2 1/2-year contract that will pay him somewhere around $150 million.

The team is facing a seriously uphill climb in a bid to make the MLS playoffs; it has three games remaining and is five points behind CF Montréal for the ninth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

After Saturday, Inter Miami will have two games left — both against Charlotte FC, one at home Oct. 18 and the other on the road Oct. 21.

But Messi’s availability for the Oct. 18 game would seem to be in serious doubt considering he has been called up by Argentina for World Cup qualifying matches against Paraguay on Oct. 12 and Peru on Oct. 17. And if Inter Miami is eliminated from playoff contention by that point, it also raises the question of whether the team would play Messi at Charlotte in a meaningless finale.

Messi has 11 goals in 12 matches with Inter Miami this season. The team is 8-0-4 when he plays — seven of those matches were on the team’s run to win its first-ever trophy by claiming the Leagues Cup championship — and 1-3-2 in its six matches without Messi since he joined the club.

Since his signing, Inter Miami has outscored opponents 29-12 when Messi is on the field, and has been outscored 15-14 when he is not.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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