Messi’s back! He’s on game roster for Inter Miami vs. Colorado in midst of Monterrey drama

The moment Inter Miami fans have been waiting for came at 4 p.m. Friday, when, in a rare move, the club released on social media its game day roster for the home match Saturday against Colorado Rapids. Lionel Messi is on the list after missing the past four games with a hamstring injury.

“HE’S BACK” was the headline, in pink letters, with a photo of Messi from the back walking toward the field. Assistant coach Javi Morales seemed optimistic about Messi’s return when he spoke to the media Friday morning.

“He’s getting better every day,” Morales said. “He’s day by day, we’re going to see how he feels after training (Friday), then we’re going to make a decision for Saturday. If he feels good, I am sure Tata (Martino) will want to count on him, whether it’s 10 minutes, 15 or 45. Of course, we want him to play.”

Typically, the team releases only the injury list the day before the game, but this week, the list of available players was also announced. In addition to Messi, midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi is also on the list after missing all season so far following sports hernia surgery. Cremaschi had returned to training recently, played a game with the second team and is back on the active roster.

Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez are also on the list. Robert Taylor (hamstring) and Sergiy Kryvtsov (hamstring) are out.

The news about Messi comes amid a controversy involving the Argentine star and Mexican club Monterrey, Miami’s quarterfinal opponent in the Champions Cup.

Monterrey filed a formal complaint with CONCACAF against Inter Miami on Thursday regarding a heated verbal exchange between Messi and Monterrey coach Fernando “Tano” Ortiz in a Chase Stadium hallway after Inter Miami’s 2-1 loss on Wednesday night.

The complaint also mentions Suarez and Alba, who supported Messi in the dispute, according to Mexican media reports and reports by tournament rights-holders TUDN and Fox Sports journalist Fernando Schwartz.

Monterrey is seeking sanctions against the team and the players involved and would like a resolution before the second and decisive leg of the two-game series April 10 in Monterrey.

CONCACAF is not commenting on the incident.

Morales downplayed the reports and said the team is focused on preparing for a Saturday league home game against the Rapids (7:30 p.m., AppleTV) and the away game at Monterrey next Wednesday.

The clash was apparently fueled by an Ortiz interview in the days leading to Wednesday’s suggesting that the officiating could be biased in favor of Inter Miami because Messi is on the team and he drives business.

“Everything that surrounds Messi can lead to sporting and non-sporting decisions”, the Monterrey coach said.

Asked if he thought his club would be at a disadvantage, he said: “Obviously, I don’t know if it would harm us, but we all know sports is business and the business is not about us. In terms of things on the field we are going to do what we must do to win. Afterwards, I can’t handle other things.”

As it turned out, Inter Miami had a player ejected with a red card and had six players issued yellow cards while Monterrey had three players get yellow cards.

According to TUDN and the Fox Sports report, Messi, Suarez, Alba and Inter Miami coach Tata Martino approached referee Walter Lopez after the game to question some calls, particularly the second yellow card and expulsion of Miami midfielder David Ruiz. Both Monterrey goals were scored with Miami down a man.

After protesting to the referee, Messi, Suarez and Alba found themselves in close quarters with Ortiz, and an argument erupted.

Asked about Ortiz’s comments, Morales said it is part of soccer to deal with different opinions, and insisted the team has moved on.

“The most important thing happened on the field, which is a Cup match, we know what those matches represent, they are played with great intensity,” Morales said. “We played against a great opponent, and unfortunately when we went down to 10 men, we couldn’t maintain the result. Now we have to go to Monterrey and try to do what we can to advance.”

But first, the team’s sight is set on beating the Rapids on Saturday, Morales said.

The biggest question was whether Messi would play. He not seen any action since March 13, when he was on the field for 50 minutes in the Champions Cup match against Nashville SC before leaving with the injury.

Messi returned to training with the rest of the squad on Tuesday.

“He trains every day with the physio and on the field; depending on how he feels, he trains sometimes with the team and sometimes with the physio,” Morales said. “But lately, he’s been participating in the full training sessions so he’s getting better.”

Messi scored three goals in three matches to start the regular season and has five goals including Champions Cup. Suarez has seven goals overall, five assists, and five MLS goals, including Miami’s only goal in a 1-1 tie with New York City FC last week. Suarez on Friday was named MLS Player of the Month for February/March.

Colorado coach Chris Armas said he is planning for all scenarios against a Miami team that has had radically different lineups. In addition to Messi’s status being up in the air, Miami will be missing Robert Taylor, who strained a hamstring and is expected to miss 10 days.

“Not sure exactly how they line up; we know they’ve done different things,” Armas said. “Three in the back, four in the back, with Messi, without Messi, but regardless they’re a really good team and an even better team at home.”

The Rapids are 2-2-2 and coming off a 3-2 upset win over Los Angeles FC last week as new signing Djordje Mihailovic scored his first two goals for Colorado late in the game. Miami is 3-2-2 and is in second place in the Eastern Conference standings.