Miami’s playoff chances

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Tata Martino, and others have transformed Inter Miami’s 2023 season. The last place team in the Eastern Conference has lifted the Leagues Cup and will play for the U. S. Open Cup trophy in September.

Miami’s immediate question now becomes whether the transformed side will qualify for the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs as well.

Schedule congestion

Miami must play 13 games in the remaining eight weeks of the regular season, including an unannounced rescheduling of a postponed match against Charlotte and the U. S. Open Cup final in Houston on September 27.

Messi himself remains Argentina’s captain and has four CONMEBOL 2026 World Cup qualifications to play in the two FIFA international match windows that fall within those eight weeks. This past June Alba captained Spain against Italy and Croatia in UEFA Nations League play, and Spain have four UEFA Euro 2024 qualification matches in the FIFA windows in September and October. Busquets retired from international football after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Messi is in world-class physical condition but is 36 years old. Busquets is 35. Alba is 34. Coach Martino recently commented that Miami will have to rest Messi specifically, and by implication the other two.

Close analysis

At superficial first glance Miami has “won” every match the transformed side has played to date, and the superficiality is true as far as it goes. All matches were in tournaments and Miami advanced every time.

But a closer look reveals a significant pattern among the advancements.

Omit the penalty kick shootouts because they are not available in regular season MLS games – A tournament advancement does not equal a regular season victory. The transformed Miami side has been invincible at home at the Drive Pink in Ft. Lauderdale. But the road tells another story: Miami have won away outright in regulation only twice, at Subaru Park and at Red Bull arena.

Wins Losses Draws SOW?
2-1, Cruz Azul, Home None 4-4, Dallas, away yes
4-0, Atlanta, Home 1-1, Nashville, away yes
3-1, Orlando, Home 3-3, Cincinnati, away yes
4-0, Charlotte, Home
4-1, Philadelphia, away
2-1, Red Bull, away

We summarize both the schedule congestion and the future away games  in the rest and venue columns of Miami’s remaining schedule.

Day Date Rest Opponent Venue
Sa 26-Aug 3rd day New York R B away
We 30-Aug 4th day Nashville HOME
Su 3-Sep 4th day LA FC away
Sa 9-Sep 6th day Kansas City HOME
Sa 16-Sep 7th day Atlanta away
We 20-Sep 4th day Toronto HOME
Su 24-Sep 4th day Orlando away
We 27-Sep 3rd day Houston away
Sa 30-Sep 4th day New York City HOME
We 4-Oct 4th day Chicago away
Sa 7-Oct 3rd day Cincinnati HOME
Ppd Ppd ??? Charlotte HOME
Sa 21-Oct 14th day Charlotte away


As much as Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass may have wanted Messi, Busquets, and Alba to start for the sold out crowd in greater New York’s TV market on August 26th, coach Martino started only Alba and rested the other two, bringing them on only in the 60th. As much as Apple wants them to play in Los Angeles on September 3rd, Miami is required by FIFA to release Messi and Alba in time for Argentina’s match on September 7th and Spain’s on September 8th.

The re-schedule of Miami’s home match with Charlotte fits most easily in the October FIFA window, so it’s likely to go there given the imperative of the Decision Day process’s integrity. Were that when the reschedule actually falls, Messi and Alba would miss the match for their October internationals.


Unless the psychological impact of Messi, Alba, Busquets, and Martino carries over during home games when they do not start and into away matches when the first two are not even on the continent, Miami faces a stiff challenge to climb from 15th to ninth.

If they win all six MLS home games they would add 18 points to total 36.

But winning consistently on the road in face of squad rotation and international absences is less believable. Philadelphia’s failure at Subaru Park demonstrated to everyone what not to do. Dallas, Nashville, and Cincinnati laid out good paths forward, and the little Argentine cannot start all thirteen matches let alone provide every needed miracle within each one.

Winning every MLS home game and drawing every one away would give Miami 42 points for the season. Last year that would have tied for ninth in the east, and this year ninth goes to the playoffs. A ninth-place finish in the 2023 east earns a trip away to the wild card game hosted by number eight.

Any loss, however, is anathema.

For nearly two full months and disregarding internationals, the MLS matches will come at a tournament’s pace. MLS’s resistance does not match La Liga’s as Red Bull showed Saturday night. But Miami’s closing run must match a Barcelona season close-out at its best. The four summer imports have raised Miami’s game. The question remains whether they have raised it to thirteen consecutive matches undefeated. The rest of Miami’s roster although uplifted and energized is not Barcelona’s.


  1. Messi (and possibly the others) are also unlikely to play in the away games against Atlanta and Charlotte due to the artificial turf.
    On the other hand, there is no reason Miami would have to release them for next Sunday’s game in LA since the international window doesn’t begin until Monday. That being said, it’s possible that they don’t want to travel cross country just prior to travel to a different continent.

  2. Gruncle Bob says:

    They’ll probably need around 44 points for 9th. Sitting on 21 currently, that’s 23 required with 11 matches to go. That would be 7 wins 2 draws and 2 losses for 23 points. That will not be easy.

  3. thanks for putting this together. sobering data for anyone for/against the cult of personality.

  4. I just hope they do not just get into the play-offs and then end up playing us in our first game…

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