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Montreal hands Inter Miami first loss of season with Messi injured

CF Montreal celebrates CF Montreal celebrates - The Canadian Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi wore street clothes and watched from a sideline box as Montreal took advantage of several Inter Miami defensive miscues to hand his team its first Major League Soccer loss of the season — a 3-2 defeat at home Sunday evening.

Messi did not play after previously being listed as questionable with a shin injury.

The injury happened in a 2-2 draw at Nashville in the CONCACAF Champions Cup last week. Messi went to contest a pass from Nashville's Lukas Macnaughton, who appeared to step on the 36-year-old's calf and cause his left ankle to twist. Trainers tended to Messi as he writhed in pain on the pitch in the 77th minute, but he remained in the match.

Messi left that match with a bruise, but head coach Gerardo (Tata) Martino said Sunday the team and Messi had previously agreed that he would rest against Montreal — no matter what happened at Nashville.

Martino has been tasked with finding ways to manage Messi's workload and recovery as he has played every minute of Inter Miami’s first four games of the season.

Resting the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner makes sense — Inter Miami will play two more games over the next six days. That's four games in a 10-day stretch. And Messi was called up to represent the Argentinian national team in a pair of Copa America warm-up matches on March 22 and 26. Inter Miami also has a match at New York on March 23.

“We all know Leo,” Inter Miami assistant coach Javier Morales said during a media availability Saturday, “he's a player who wants to play every game. I think we will have a conversation with him, see how he is and try to decide what is best for him."

Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets did not start Sunday but came on as second-half substitutes. Suarez, like Messi, had previously started all four of Inter Miami's games.

“They asked me 10 days ago if we were going to do a rotation," Martino said curtly when asked about resting Messi, as well as the reasoning behind Sunday’s lineup. “Today we did a rotation. There's no other answer.”

Leonarda Campana scored the tying goal for Miami in the 71st minute after Montreal took a 1-0 lead early in the first half on a header from Fernando Álvarez. Off a cross from Lawson Sunderland, Campana injected life into the crowd at Chase Stadium when he sent a header into the bottom left corner of the net.

“To be honest, the strongest part of the team is that it doesn't matter who plays, everyone has the same idea. I am feeling comfortable with every single man in my team. It doesn't matter if I'm playing with Lassiter, with Raheem, with Joel, with Gabriele, with George. It's all the same, they're on the same page,," said Alvarez.

"We have a really compact team, it doesn't matter who plays. The other team also deserves the two goals because they were working for that but we deserve the win more because we were managing the game."

Montreal now has seven out of a possible nine points to start the season, and remained unbeaten in three road games, their second-best start since joining MLS.

But in a game that was one of Inter Miami's sloppiest of the season, Montreal took a two-goal lead with scores from Matías Cóccaro and Sunusi Ibrahim in less than a five-minute span.

“I think we should have won the game,” Martino said. “We merited winning the game. What worries me is that we are a team that is not defending as hard as we should.”

It was Inter Miami's first loss of the young season, despite having chances down the stretch. Jordi Alba sent a left-footed shot from outside the box into the top left corner to make it 3-2.

Inter Miami will face Nashville again on Wednesday in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup Round of 16 matchup.