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Do Messi, Inter Miami have preseason tour to thank for laundry list of injuries?

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Inter Miami was hit with a bucket of cold water to the face in late March as Lionel Messi was forced to watch from the sidelines while teammate Sergio Busquets started at center-back against NYCFC in MLS action.

Messi is far and away the most notable of the players struggling for fitness as the calendar turns to April but he’s far from alone in the trainer’s room.

Just one month into the 2024 MLS season and head coach Tata Martino has a laundry list of injuries to deal with, from superstar Messi down to established veterans, young stars, new signings and everyone in between.

As the Herons prepare for a daunting midweek matchup against a talented — and fully fit — Monterrey side in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, Martino has the extremely difficult task of selecting a starting lineup knowing that a significant portion of his roster is dealing with various fitness concerns.

MORE: Watch Inter Miami games all season long with MLS Season Pass from Apple TV

Lionel Messi is reportedly targeting the midweek match against Monterrey for a return after missing multiple weeks with an injury, but it’s unclear whether he will be fit to start or just appear as a substitute.

However, Messi is far from the only injury concern in this ravaged Inter Miami squad. Midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi is down for another few weeks after hernia surgery before the season began, and Facundo Farias will miss 2024 after tearing his ACL in preseason.

Those players have been out since the start of the campaign, but there are recent injuries that have caused further strain. New signing Federico Redondo went down recently with a meniscus tear in his knee and will miss two months, while aging defender Serhiy Kryvtsov suffered a hamstring injury and is out for a few weeks. Kryvstov was only seeing the field thanks to a hamstring injury to Nicolas Freire, who is close to a return, but his availability for this match remains unclear.

The injuries are so bad that Sergio Busquets had to play center-back in their draw with NYCFC last weekend, but Tomas Aviles played 25 minutes off the bench in that game and should be fit to start.

While they are fit to play this match from the off, as far as we know, there will also be concerns over the early reliance on aging stars Busquets and Luis Suarez. Busquets spent a brief moment sidelined early in the season after an ankle injury suffered on the preseason tour, while Suarez has a chronic knee issue that must be managed throughout the year and will be tested as he takes the field each and every game.

The 2024 season arrived in late February with high expectations for Inter Miami, but just over a month into the campaign, squad constraints threaten to derail their chase for glory early.

Inter Miami are missing a bevy of important players, and there are concerns about others in the squad as well. Lionel Messi’s absence for much of the start to MLS play is the most obvious concern, and his overuse predates this season entirely, with his absence the extremely predictable result of Tata Martino’s cavalier approach to his repeated deployment.

While there’s never one lone reason for a club in the midst of an injury crisis to saddle with blame, it’s hard to look past the global preseason tour the club threw itself into a month before the start of the regular season.

As Inter Miami paraded through its lucrative tour, holding matches in El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Tokyo plus domestic games in Dallas and Ft. Lauderdale, the club surely cashed in on a significant financial windfall from its promotion of Messi and the other former Barcelona stars within the squad.

Yet the team also heavily taxed its aging squad significantly, and the effects of that are currently being felt. Messi was injured during the tour, which caused a political nightmare when he failed to take the field in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, aging starters Sergio Busquets, Serhiy Kryvtsov, and Luis Suarez all logged significant minutes throughout the preseason fixtures.

Young Argentine star Facundo Farias sustained a season-ending ACL injury in the very first friendly against El Salvador, and rising midfield star Benjamin Cremaschi suffered a sports hernia not long after. Busquets got an ankle injury in the Tokyo match, and while he recovered in short order, it’s a reminder of his heavy usage, having logged 738 out of a possible 900 minutes in 2024 thus far.

The issues in midfield forced the club to slide new signing Federico Redondo straight into the mix shortly after arriving, and he’s now out for two months with a meniscus tear.

Kryvtsov, a 33-year-old Ukrainian defender who has shown signs of his advanced age, was not meant to be used this heavily after the arrival of Nicolas Freire. But the puzzling departure of steady center-back Kamal Miller left the squad thin at the position, and when Freire arrived carrying a knee injury and suffered a subsequent hamstring issue soon after, Kryvtsov had to log significant minutes himself. Sure enough, he’s now got a hamstring problem of his own.

The preseason tour was not the sole reason for this injury crisis at the start of 2024, but the issues brought on by heavy minutes in friendlies and significant global travel have helped to create a vortex of squad constraints that is causing a ripple effect down the roster.

It feels only a matter of time before Suarez, who has been deployed in every single Inter Miami match thus far, starting all but two, will have his chronic knee injury flare up.

Injury issues for football clubs are a growing problem around the globe, but sometimes there are steps to avoid clearly preventable occurrences. In this case, Inter Miami have a host of potentially avoidable injuries that can be, at least in part, laid at the feet of the exhausting preseason journey.

Could Inter Miami have sold its soul for a preseason cash grab, and sacrificed its chances at regular-season or postseason glory? That obviously remains to be seen, with most of the season still to come, but early indications are that Tata Martino has a real headache that doesn’t seem to be subsiding anytime soon.

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