Inter Miami coach downplays reported Messi-Monterrey drama

Inter Miami CF assistant coach Javi Morales downplayed reports of an incident with Lionel Messi in the Monterrey locker room after Wednesday’s Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal clash, saying “the most important thing happened on the field.”

A source told ESPN that following Miami’s defeat, Lionel Messi, who sat out the game with an injury, angrily approached the Monterrey locker room and began yelling, though the exact reason for the confrontation was unclear.

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“The most important thing happened on the field, which is a Cup match, we know what those matches represent, they are played with intensity,” Morales said on Friday during a news conference. “But truthfully, the most important part happened on the field.

“We played against a great rival, and unfortunately when we went down to 10 men, we couldn’t maintain the result. Now we have to go to Monterrey and try to do it in the best way possible to advance.”

Inter Miami lost 2-1 to Monterrey in the first leg of their quarterfinal clash held at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Speculation arose as to whether the reported incident with Messi was sparked by declarations made by Monterrey head coach Fernando Ortiz ahead of the game.

“I hope the boys understand that it is just another game, they understand that [Messi] is just another player, because then comes all the other things, the referee, the framework, the people…everything that goes on around Messi can lead to decisions on and off the pitch that get made,” Ortiz said prior to the match.

When asked again about the situation, Morales provided only a brief response.

“We know what it’s like in the world of football. There are opinions of all kinds. Everyone is responsible for what they say.”

Miami confirmed later Friday that Messi would return to the roster for Saturday’s MLS clash against the Colorado Rapids. The club posted its roster with an image of Messi and the words: “he’s back.”

It remains to be seen what role Messi will play in the contest, but Morales said earlier that he was getting better all the time.

“He’s getting better every day, like Tata Martino said,” Morales said. “He’s day-by-day, we’re going to see how he feels today, then we’ll make a decision for Saturday.”

Messi has been dealing with a right hamstring issue for nearly a month, but returned to training with the rest of the squad this past Tuesday.

“He trains every day with the physio and on the field. Sometimes, depending on how he feels, he trains with the team and the physio. But lately, he’s been participating in the training sessions so he’s getting better,” Morales said.

Messi last featured for Miami on March 13, playing just 50 minutes of the 3-1 Champions Cup win against Nashville SC before being forced off with a right hamstring injury.

Morales said the match on Saturday remains a priority, putting the second leg of the Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal clash against Monterrey on the backburner.

“We’re going to see how he feels at training. If he feels good, I’m sure Tata will want to count on him [on Saturday] whether it’s 10 minutes, 15 minutes or 45. We want to have him.

“We’re going to do the best for him, that’s the most important thing. Based on the game tomorrow, we’re going to make a decision first, then we’ll see what happens Wednesday,” Morales said when asked if Messi would play against the Rapids with the second leg against Monterrey just days later.

Miami will also take a cautious approach when managing the minutes of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez because of the number of games in the past couple weeks.

“When we play Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, it becomes a matter of having constant conversations with these players on how they are feeling. Then, together, we make a decision. They are fine physically, so we shall see what decision we make.”

Inter Miami currently sits in second place of the Eastern Conference table with 11 points in seven games and a 3W-2L-2D record.