Will Lionel Messi play for Inter Miami against Atlanta United?

In the eyes of many, Inter Miami’s Tata Martino has an easier job than any other MLS manager; he only has to choose ten starters each week.

However, Lionel Messi, at 36 years of age and after 1,040 matches at senior level, cannot physically be forced into every starting XI.

“I understand the expectations the rest of the world has to watch him, and that is undeniable,” Martino explained after Messi was named as a substitute for the first time since his Miami debut earlier this month. “But I cannot act based on that, because then I would risk doing things wrong.”

Messi was summoned off the bench against the New York Red Bulls and duly treated his impatient fans to another mesmeric goal. However, Miami had to host Sporting KC without their talismanic forward while he was performing heroics for Argentina in South American World Cup qualifying.

Miami came out on top in a helter-skelter contest but hardly want to make a habit of doing battle in Messi’s absence. As a crucial contest against Atlanta United looms on the horizon, here’s everything you need to know about Messi’s availability for Saturday night’s game.

“It’s obvious that for him a free kick around there is like a penalty for another player.” Those were the words of FC Dallas’ beleaguered boss Nico Estevez after Messi scored the second free kick of his Miami career, but former Villarreal manager Javi Calleja uttered almost the exact same sentence four years earlier.

Argentina’s skipper underscored his set-piece supremacy for the umpteenth time in his nation’s first 2026 World Cup qualifier against Ecuador last Friday. Just as a tricky tie in Buenos Aires threatened to fizzle out in a goalless draw, Messi bent in his 104th international goal to win the match.

Messi was withdrawn in the closing stages against Ecuador but played down any injury concerns. “It was a very tough match, very physical,” he said post-game. “I was a little tired – that’s why I was subbed – but I felt good.”

That sumptuous free kick was the 29th goal Messi had scored in South American World Cup qualifying, equalling the high-water mark set by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. However, he wasn’t given the chance to surpass that tally in Argentina’s second game against Bolivia on 12 September.

Lionel Scaloni left Messi out of the matchday squad after unspecified discomfort forced him to sit out the team’s training sessions. However, the nation’s captain did accompany his side into the clouds of La Paz, sitting on the bench in the official capacity of an assistant coach.

Lionel MessiLionel Messi

Lionel Messi was involved in Inter Miami’s training sessions / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

Messi was hurriedly ferried from Bolivia to the US and took part in Inter Miami’s training sessions on Thursday and Friday ahead of the away game with Atlanta United on Saturday 16 September.

On the morning of the match, Sports Center claimed that Messi would not even travel with the Herons squad to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is home to an artificial pitch.

Martino, a former Atlanta manager, stressed that Messi was “fine” but still struck a cautious tone. “We will be careful with him because we have a lot of important games in a short span,” the manager explained, hinting at the hierarchy of priorities which has to be considered.

Date / Kick-off Time (BST)


16/09/23 – 22:00

Atlanta United vs Inter Miami (MLS)

21/09/23 – 00:30

Inter Miami vs Toronto (MLS)

25/09/23 – 00:30

Orlando City vs Inter Miami (MLS)

28/09/23 – 01:30

Inter Miami vs Houston Dynamo (US Open Cup final)

01/10/23 – 00:30

Inter Miami vs New York City (MLS)

05/10/23 – 01:30

Chicago vs Inter Miami (MLS)

The obvious fixture ringed in red for Inter Miami is the final of the US Open Cup against Houston Dynamo in the early hours of Thursday 28 September (for UK viewers).

Messi already steered Miami to one piece of silverware seven games into his US career, scoring ten goals to win the Leagues Cup in August.

While Miami are still aiming to reach the MLS play-offs, their chances of qualifying for the post-season are minimal; one statistical model gives Miami a probability of just 13%. Yet, in a one-off fixture with a rested Messi, Miami would be clear favourites in the cup final against Dynamo.

It may not please fans in the short term, but if Messi’s output can be maximised at the opportune moments, it may lead to more success in South Beach.


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