Without Lionel Messi: Inter Miami suffers 5-2 defeat against Atlanta United

In a surprising turn of events, Inter Miami rested their star player Lionel Messi and experienced their first loss since the Argentine sensation joined the team. The 5-2 defeat to Atlanta United dealt a blow to their playoff aspirations on a fateful Saturday.

Messi was notably absent from the lineup, taking a well-deserved break after an intense series of matches since his debut with Miami in late July. The club’s coach, Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, cited “muscle fatigue” as the reason for Messi’s absence and deemed it “reckless” to bring him into the game.

Despite sitting out Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Bolivia earlier in the week, Messi stood by his team from the sidelines.

Miami was without Messi last week but still managed to secure a 3-2 victory against Sporting Kansas City. However, this time, the outcome was drastically different for Martino’s squad.

Miami took an early lead in the 25th minute with an exceptional goal from the in-form Ecuadorian striker, Leonardo Campana. Yet, Atlanta United, currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, responded emphatically with three goals in just eight minutes.

The first was a glancing header by French midfielder Tristan Muyamba, which rebounded off the post and was deemed a goal by the assistant referee.

Five minutes later, Atlanta took the lead when Brazilian winger Xande Silva dribbled to the byline, and his pull-back was inadvertently turned into Miami’s net by defender Kamal Miller.

Miami’s defense, missing former Spain international left-back Jordi Alba due to muscle fatigue, struggled to contain Atlanta, and Brooks Lennon sealed the deal with a well-placed shot in the 44th minute.

Although Miami reduced the deficit with a Campana penalty in the 54th minute, they failed to stage a trademark comeback without Messi.

Atlanta took advantage of Miami’s offensive efforts and caught them on the counter, with Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis netting his 14th goal of the season, tying him with Hany Mukhtar of Nashville as the joint top scorer in MLS.

The final blow came in the 89th minute when another well-executed break saw Lobjanidze setting up Tyler Wolff to score Atlanta’s fifth goal.

Inter Miami remains near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, trailing ninth-placed D.C United by six points, who currently occupy the last playoff position.

Martino defended the decision to rest Messi and Alba, who also suffered from muscle fatigue, ahead of a hectic schedule with league matches scheduled for Wednesday and Sunday, followed by the US Open Cup final on September 27.

“Our priority was to avoid potential injuries, and the decision had nothing to do with the playing surface,” explained the coach.