Sandwiched between regular-season draws against Orlando City SC and New York City FC for Miami was a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final loss to Houston Dynamo FC. Inter Miami followed those results up by being on the wrong end of a 4-1 demolition at the hands of Chicago Fire FC in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Messi missed all of those games.
As Messi deals with a lingering leg injury, Inter Miami's postseason hopes are hanging by a thread.
How many teams make the MLS playoffs?
A total of 18 teams will make the MLS postseason field, the top nine finishers in each conference.
What is the probability of Inter Miami making the MLS playoffs?
There's a very small chance Inter Miami can make the playoffs this season.
Inter Miami dug a massive hole for itself in the pre-Messi era, putting itself dead last in the Eastern Conference. Inter Miami now sits in 14th place in the 15-team conference, with 33 points from 31 games played (three points for a win, one for a draw).
All but two of the Eastern Conference's playoff spots have been clinched, with seeds No. 8 and 9 still up for grabs. Inter Miami would need to win out and get help along the way in order to make the playoffs as a 8 or 9 seed.
The New York Red Bulls — who currently own the longest active playoff streak among major U.S. pro sports leagues at 13 seasons — are on the brink of missing the playoffs. The same is true for D.C. United, which has missed the playoffs the last three seasons.
Is there precedent for MLS teams making playoffs after slow starts?
Several teams have overcome horrid first halves to make the postseason.
The most similar comparison for Inter Miami would be D.C. United in 2018, which produced just 17 points in 18 games played prior to the MLS All-Star break. Galvanized by the midseason arrival of Wayne Rooney, D.C. United earned 34 points in its final 16 games to reach the playoffs. That same season, the Seattle Sounders were 7-9-5 before going 11-2 to close out the season and make the playoffs.
Who does Inter Miami play?
FC Cincinnati at DRV PNK Stadium (Oct. 7): Cincinnati has clinched the Supporters' Shield, the first trophy in team history. FC Cincinnati also will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs - including MLS Cup - should the team advance. While FC Cincinnati has clinched the league's best record, it still would be in the team's best interests to keep Messi and Miami out of the playoff field.
Charlotte FC at DRV PNK Stadium (Oct. 18) and at Bank of America Stadium (Oct. 21): The two teams met in the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup (a 4-0 Miami win), necessitating a postponement of the originally scheduled Aug. 20 matchup (that has been rescheduled for Oct. 18). Charlotte is in a similar position as Miami in the Eastern Conference race, desperately needing results to make the playoff field.
MLS playoff picture
These would be the MLS playoff matchups through the first round, if the season ended today …
Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, Nashville SC, New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union, and have clinched playoff spots. FC Cincinnati has clinched the Supporters' Shield.
Chicago Fire FC (No. 8 seed) vs. CF Montréal (9)
Round 1 (best-of-three series)
FC Cincinnati (1) vs. Chicago Fire FC (8)-CF Montréal (9) winner
Orlando City SC (2) vs. Nashville SC (7)
Philadelphia Union (3) vs. Atlanta United (6)
Columbus Crew (4) vs. New England Revolution (5)
St. Louis City SC has clinched a playoff spot and the No. 1 seed in the conference.
Round 1 (best-of-three series)
St. Louis City SC (1) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (8)-FC Dallas (9) winner
Seattle Sounders (2) vs. Portland Timbers (7)
Los Angeles FC (4) vs. Houston Dynamo FC (5)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS playoff picture: Lionel Messi, Inter Miami postseason chances