Lionel Messi's return to action with Inter Miami against Toronto FC on Wednesday didn't go as planned.
The footballing icon had to be substituted after just 37 minutes, leaving fans and pundits puzzled.
Messi's early exit, along with teammate Jordi Alba's departure, cast a shadow over what should have been a dominant 4-0 victory for Miami.
Messi and Alba, former Barcelona teammates, were absent from Miami's previous match due to "muscle fatigue," according to Coach Gerardo Martino.
The decision to rest the star duo was part of a strategy to manage their fitness and minutes during a busy schedule that includes the upcoming U.S. Open Cup final on September 27.
The two players left the field without apparent contact injuries but displayed discomfort with lower-body ailments. Messi's early substitution raised questions, especially considering Miami's impressive unbeaten record of 11-0-1 in all competitions with him in the lineup, including a 3-0-1 mark in regular-season matches.
Miami's Robert Taylor stepped in as Messi's substitute and delivered an outstanding performance. Taylor recorded a brace and even provided an assist during the match. His remarkable display in the second half was a testament to Miami's depth.
In the 54th minute, Taylor showcased his ball control skills, finding space to fire a shot from the edge of the box. Later in the 87th minute, a clever chip-pass from Facundo Farias set up Taylor's second goal of the night, scored from a challenging angle. In between, Taylor assisted Benjamin Cremaschi in the 73rd minute, who added Miami's fourth goal.
Despite the early substitutions and interruptions due to injuries, Miami managed to secure the win, moving closer to the Eastern Conference playoff line. The victory was significant, but the health of Messi and Alba remains a primary concern for the team, especially with the crucial U.S. Open Cup final on the horizon.
Toronto FC also faced injury setbacks during the match, losing Victor Vazquez and Brandon Servania to injuries in the first 26 minutes. The match featured nine minutes of extra time in the first half due to these early stoppages.
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