Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi out to silence Charlotte’s playoff hopes

Lionel Messi won’t be competing in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but he could play spoiler on Saturday evening when Inter Miami visits Charlotte FC in both teams’ regular-season finale.

A leg ailment had limited Messi to only two appearances — and 72 total minutes played — for Miami (9-17-7, 34 points) since Labor Day. And by the time he was able to contribute again, his insertion as a second-half substitute ended in a 1-0 home defeat to Cincinnati on Oct. 7 that eliminated the Herons from playoff contention.

But Messi followed that with two appearances for Argentina in World Cup qualifying, scoring twice and playing all 90 minutes in the latter, a 2-0 win over Peru on Tuesday.

He returned in time to watch Wednesday’s 2-2 draw between Miami and Charlotte in Florida from the sidelines, and had said after Tuesday’s appearance he intends to play Saturday.

“The most important thing is the 90 minutes he played, that he felt well and played confidently and not worried about his injury,” Miami manager Tata Martino said postgame, according to an interpretation from the Charlotte Observer. “Sometimes your head plays games with you after injuries. … We will see if he is also ready to play Saturday.”

The uncertainty leaves Charlotte (9-11-13, 40 points) in a peculiar position ahead of a match it must win to have any hope of wrapping up one of the nine Eastern Conference postseason spots.

The Crown begin the weekend as one of four teams tied for that ninth spot, but because Chicago and New York City FC play each other Saturday, one of the two is guaranteed to move to 41 points or better.

Charlotte will rue giving back two late leads in Florida in their 2-2 draw, but they should have leading scorer Karol Swiderski available to start after he came off the bench on Wednesday, having played for Poland a day before.

Charlotte boss Christian Lattanzio isn’t speculating whether Messi will play, at least publicly.

“If he plays, he plays,” Lattanzio said. “And we have to deal with, to play against all the players that they have. We have to focus on ourselves and we have to play our game. And also, we have our supporters on our side and we hope that they will really be behind the guys like they always do.”