John Herdman hopes Toronto FC's bad run is behind them and a playoff push on the horizon as they prepare to meet Inter Miami, who are still bristling at suffering their joint-record defeat last time out in MLS.

Toronto staged a second-half comeback to beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Saturday, snapping a seven-match losing streak across all competitions.

The Reds had been winless in nine ahead of their victory over the Union, which dragged them up to eighth in the Eastern Conference, three points adrift of the top seven. 

With a number of players returning from injury and confidence restored, Herdman hopes that result can be something of a turning point.

"We can go into that match now against Miami with one of my best starting XIs for the first time since the beginning of the season," Herdman said. 

"We're never too high and never too low, and we just keep our feet on the ground, stay focused. 

"It's one win – and I thank the fans, they have been brilliant with us, they kept us going – but it's just the start, the start of a playoff push."

Miami, meanwhile, have been knocked off the top of the Eastern Conference, losing 6-1 to FC Cincinnati on their last outing on July 7.

 

Cincinnati then won their subsequent match to leapfrog Miami, who have been without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez due to the Copa America, at the summit.

Boss Gerardo Martino highlighted the Herons' defensive issues after their last match, saying: "We had a period early in the season where we were vulnerable at the back.

"We started to fix that, the previous five or six games we did a solid job defending, but then we reverted defensively to how we played early in the season. 

"We are still not there despite our good results and performances. We have to keep working and hoping in the final part of the season we can improve with our full roster."

However, Miami may have to wait to reintroduce Messi after he exited Argentina's Copa America final victory over Colombia with an ankle injury.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Inter Miami – Julian Gressel 

Gressel has eight assists in MLS this season, a tally only bettered by Messi (nine) among Miami players.

His tally of 4.19 expected assists (xA), meanwhile, is better than Messi's 3.59. With the Herons still missing some of their key men, they may need Gressel to supply the chances.

Toronto FC – Federico Bernardeschi

Only nine players have bettered Bernardeschi's tally of 53 chances created in MLS this year, while he also has 12 goal involvements (eight goals, four assists).

Ranking fourth for shots attempted (79) but just 34th for expected goals (6.5 xG), the Italian is not afraid to try his luck from any position.

MATCH PREDICTION: INTER MIAMI WIN

Toronto halted a nine-game winless streak by beating Philadelphia last time out, but their last pair of back-to-back victories in MLS came in late April and early May.

They are winless in their last seven away games, losing their last four in a row and conceding multiple goals in six of their last seven.

Miami, meanwhile, have only lost one of their last eight home matches in MLS, winning four of their last six. Despite their absences, they approach the game as favourites.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Inter Miami – 72.4%

Toronto FC – 11.7%

Draw – 15.9%

FC Cincinnati made a statement of intent as they hammered Inter Miami 6-1 to take the lead in MLS' Eastern Conference.

Cincinnati, the reigning Supporters' Shield champions, ended Miami's fine run of form in sensational style on Saturday.

Five different scorers netted for the home side, who are now a point clear of Miami in the standings, with Yuya Kubo helping himself to a double.

Serhii Kryvtsov got the Herons' only goal of the match, cancelling out Kubo's opener.

However, quickfire efforts from Luciano Acosta, Pavel Bucha and Yamil Asad put Cincinnati in complete control by the interval.

And an emphatic victory was wrapped up when Kubo added his second before youngster Gerardo Valenzuela got in on the act with his first senior goal.

A dismal night for Miami was capped off when Sergio Busquets saw red after picking up two quick yellows for dissent, and Gerardo Martino's team – who are still without star players Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – will have to swiftly bounce back.

Data Debrief: Double-double

Kubo took centre stage with his brace, but Acosta, last season's MVP, was again integral for Cincinnati.

Acosta has now provided 15 assists in MLS this season (more than any other player) after he teed up Bucha's goal from a corner, while he has also scored 10 times himself.

He had 101 touches and played six key passes in this game, as Cincinnati proved they are still the team to beat in the East.

FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan is relishing going up against Inter Miami in an enthralling clash at the top of MLS.

Eastern Conference leaders Miami, who will be without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez due to their continued Copa America duties, visit Cincinnati on Saturday.

The defending Supporters' Shield champions are second in the East, just two points behind Miami.

Both teams have won four of their last five league games, and Noonan is anticipating a stern test of his team's quality.

"They're a very deep team. You can see with key pieces missing the team that they're fielding is very strong," Noonan said.

"There's a reason they're still winning games and doing it home and away.

"They have a lot of quality and a lot of guys that have played meaningful minutes and now are getting more consistent starts.

"But they still look very strong and will be a great test for us."

Cincinnati have a game in hand on Miami, and come into the clash on the back of a record-setting 3-2 win over D.C. United. 

Noonan's team have now won seven straight away matches.

"I give the guys credit because we've gone on the road two games here and gotten results, and it's not easy to do," Noonan said after the win.

"I told them before the game... 'You guys are a good team on the road,' and it might not always be the way we want it to look.

"That's credit to the opponent, that's credit to going on the road in tough atmospheres, but you have to be able to adjust at times and adapt to the conditions, and I think they do a good job of that."

The task for Cincinnati now is to repeat that form at home.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FC Cincinnati - Luciano Acosta

Acosta has been involved in seven goals (three goals, four assists) in his last four home matches. Since the start of the 2022 season, Acosta has been involved in 52 goals in regular-season home matches (23 goals, 29 assists), seven more than any other player in that time.

Inter Miami - Jordi Alba

With Messi and Suarez absent, fellow superstar Alba has been helping to plug the gap.

He scored a stunner against Nashville SC last week, and adds another potent threat even from left-back.

MATCH PREDICTION: CINCINNATI WIN

Miami have won 11 of their last 14 matches (D2 L1) including the last four in a row. All four wins in Miami’s current run have been by 2-1 scorelines.

But Cincinnati are made the slight favourites for this one.

The win over D.C. was their 11th win in their last 13 matches (L2). The only team in the post-shootout era (since 2000) to record 12 wins in a span of 14 matches in a single regular season was the Seattle Sounders in July-October 2018.

Miami won each of their first four matches against Cincinnati in 2020 and 2021. Since the start of the 2022 season, however, Cincinnati are unbeaten in four regular-season meetings with Miami (W3 D1).

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

FC Cincinnati - 43.7%

Inter Miami - 29.5%

Draw - 26.8%

Inter Miami won their fourth straight MLS game as Julian Gressel provided another assist in the Herons' 2-1 victory at Charlotte FC.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez away on Copa America duty, Gressel has stepped up to help fill the void for Gerardo Martino's side.

And he delivered again as his brilliant cross teed up Benjamín Cremaschi for an 86th-minute winner.

Dean Smith's Charlotte team were subsequently reduced to 10 men when Patrick Agyemang, who had earlier cancelled out Robert Taylor's opener for Miami, saw red deep in stoppage time.

Miami stay top of MLS, two points ahead of FC Cincinnati, who they face next, in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte, meanwhile, sit sixth in the same conference after suffering back-to-back defeats.

Data Debrief: Gressel takes centre stage again

Fresh from recording his 100th MLS goal contribution in Miami's win over Nashville SC, Gressel made it 101 with his sublime assist late on.

Gressel has contributed to goals in his last five games in the league (one goal, four assists), while Miami have scored in 20 of their 22 games, more often than any other team in MLS this season.

Inter Miami are fortunate to have Jordi Alba, so says head coach Gerardo Martino.

Alba scored a stunning volley that ultimately proved the winner just before half-time in Saturday's 2-1 win over Nashville SC. The strike came with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.01.

That victory kept Miami top of the Eastern Conference, with a two-point lead over FC Cincinnati.

Miami face Charlotte in midweek, and with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez still away at the Copa America, Martino is glad to have such an experienced, quality player as Alba at his disposal.

"I celebrated] as should be celebrated because it was a great goal," Martino said.

"I'm not surprised because he is a player with so much quality.

"He [Alba] puts me at ease for what he gives the team and the options he gives us in attack and how well he played defensively.

"Jordi is an internationally recognised player and we're lucky to have him on our team."

Nashville dragged themselves back into the contest in the second half, and Miami ultimately relied on goalkeeper Drake Callendar to make a late save to earn all three points.

Reflecting on his side's display, Martino added: "I believe we had a very good first half, we controlled the whole thing.

"In the second half, we did not control the ball the same way as the first half, especially when Nashville had a line of three, [but] we didn't suffer.

"I think in the end we won the game rather well."

Charlotte lost 1-0 to the Houston Dynamo last time out, snapping a four-game unbeaten streak for Dean Smith's team.

They sit sixth in the Eastern Conference.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Charlotte FC - Patrick Agyemang

Agyemang leads Charlotte's scoring charts with five MLS goals. They have come from 14 shots on target, and 26 attempts overall. He will be one Miami's defence has to look out for.

Inter Miami - Julian Gressel

Gressel provided an assist for Miami's opener against Nashville. It was his 100th goal contribution in MLS.

Since he joined MLS in 2017, Gressel has provided 62 assists, with only Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta (65) setting up more goals.

MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

While Miami are top of the standings, Charlotte are expected to challenge for a positive result in this one, with Opta's supercomputer ranking the draw threat highly.

Miami have won their last three away games in MLS, though, so the Herons still come into this as slight favourites.

That being said, Miami have lost their last two trips to Charlotte. In fact, last season, these teams split the record evenly over their three meetings in all competitions, with Miami winning one, Charlotte winning another and the other game drawn.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Inter Miami - 41.6%

Charlotte - 32.9%

Draw - 25.6%

Jordi Alba filled in for his absent Inter Miami stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as the Herons made it three MLS wins on the spin with a 2-1 victory over Nashville SC.

With his former Barcelona team-mates Messi and Suarez away at the Copa America, Alba provided the stardust as he volleyed home in the 44th minute on Saturday to put the away team 2-0 up.

The Spaniard's sensational strike, which came with an expected goals (xG) value of just 0.01, arrived four minutes after Ian Fray had headed home from Julian Gressel's corner to nose Miami ahead.

Yannick Bright's clumsy challenge on Tyler Boyd provided Hany Mukhtar the chance to drag Nashville back into the contest in the second half - an opportunity the German duly took from the penalty spot.

Forster Ajago almost completed the comeback, but Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender made a fine save to deny the hosts a late equaliser.

Miami remain top of the Eastern Conference, two points clear of FC Cincinnati.

Data Debrief: Gressel the creator

Gressel provided an assist to Fray for Miami's opener against Columbus Crew on June 19, and that duo teamed up again this time out.

Since he joined MLS in 2017, Gressel has provided 62 assists, with only Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta (65) setting up more goals.

Gerardo Martino is "the perfect fit" for Inter Miami, so says Julian Gressel.

Miami are top of MLS ahead of playing Nashville SC this weekend, having taken 41 points from 20 matches.

It has been an epic turnaround in fortunes for the Herons, who have been MLS' form team since the arrivals of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba last year.

This season, that trio have been formed by their former Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez, who like Messi, has netted 12 goals in the league so far in 2024.

Yet with both Messi and Suarez absent due to the ongoing Copa America, Miami's form has not dropped off.

And Gressel, who supplied an assist in Miami's 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew last time out, says Martino deserves all the credit.

"Tata is the perfect fit for this team," he told the Miami Herald. "He has the intensity to push younger guys but also the experience and knowledge of how to manage a really successful team with stars.

"He knows MLS. He knows Leo Messi and Busquets and Jordi and Suarez. He can combine all that knowledge he gained over those years and really bring out the best in us.

"When Miami made that hire, I wasn't with the club yet, but I remember thinking: 'This is absolutely a no-brainer.'

"You don't really coach Leo Messi anymore, or Luis Suarez; Those guys are so beyond that, so it's about managing them and managing the team around them.

"He has a really good feel for that."

Former Barca boss Martino credited his work in charge of national teams as the ideal preparation for this job.

"Of course, it is rare for four stars to show up together, especially in MLS, but dealing with young players and stars is not new to me," Martino said.

"As a national team coach, you often have world-class players with a lot of experience, and you collaborate with the young players who are developing.

"As a coach, your job is not restricted to training during the week and playing games on weekends. You are also expected to develop and integrate young players while coexisting with the big-name players."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nashville SC - Sam Surridge

Hany Mukhtar has not quite scaled the same heights as in seasons gone by in 2024, but striker Surridge has provided the goals. He leads the way for Nashville, with seven strikes in MLS.

Inter Miami - Julian Gressel

Gressel’s assist for Ian Fray to score Miami’s opening goal against Columbus was his 61st MLS assist.

Since he joined MLS in 2017, only Luciano Acosta (65) has recorded more assists than Gressel.

MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

Nashville limited New York City FC to no shots on target in their 1-0 win on Saturday. It marked the sixth time since the start of the 2021 season that Nashville have not allowed a shot on target in a match, the most such games in the league in that time.

Miami are now on 41 points. Of the 11 previous teams that averaged more than 2.0 points per match through 20 games of the season, 10 went on to win the Supporters' Shield, with the exception being Toronto FC in the shortened 2020 season.

The Herons are unbeaten in six straight meetings with Nashville SC in all competitions (W3 D3) including winning the last two.

Prior to the last two games, Miami had won only two of their first 11 matches against Nashville in all competitions (D5 L4).

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Nashville SC - 37.8%

Inter Miami - 35.7%

Draw - 26.4%

Ian Fray made a scoring return from his long injury lay-off, helping Inter Miami to a 2-1 victory over Columbus Crew in the MLS on Wednesday.

Miami, who are without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez due to their Copa America participation, ensured they stayed top of the Eastern Conference with their second win on the bounce.

Making his first appearance since July 2023, defender Fray marked his comeback with an early goal, flicking Julian Gressel's corner into the back of the net after just 10 minutes.

The Herons cemented their control just 11 minutes later when Leonardo Campana latched onto the rebound of his own saved shot to put them 2-0 up.

However, Cucho Hernandez halved the deficit just before half-time, poking a low effort past Drake Callendar into the bottom-left corner.

Despite Miami's dominance in the second half, Columbus almost got the deciding goal, but Callendar prevented Cucho from getting a second with a sharp save to ensure the hosts did not drop points.

Data Debrief: Herons on scoring run

Miami have now scored in each of their last six matches in the MLS, their longest run since a seven-game streak between March and May earlier this year.

Gressel has played a key part in that run, contributing to goals in each of his last three appearances for the Herons (one goal, two assists).

Inter Miami are sitting comfortably at the top of the Eastern Conference table but face a challenge on Thursday when Columbus Crew visit for an MLS clash at Chase Stadium.

The Herons are two points clear at the summit of the East standings after snatching a 2-1 triumph over Philadelphia Union last time out.

Yet Wilfried Nancy's Crew have triumphed in their last four road games in the league, battling to a 3-2 victory over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

"It's a massive run and just shows how good we are mentally" Mohamed Farsi said of the streak.

"I think we have more away wins right now than last year all season. I think so or the same, so I'm happy for that."

Farsi has become a central figure for Columbus and scored the go-ahead goal in the 53rd minute against the Pigeons, much to the delight of head coach Nancy.

"The idea for Mo is to be more consistent because he brings a lot of energy to the team," Nancy said.

"He wants also to show himself that he's a better player than last year when we had the same deal here. Good for him.

"Now, he knows that he has to work on certain things, but I'm happy for him. He's doing a good job."

Despite missing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Matis Rojas – all of whom are on Copa America duty – the nine-man Herons overcame the Union thanks to Leo Afonso's last-gasp strike.

"It is clear that in 10 times, nine of these games we would end up losing," Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said.

"Absolutely all the credit belongs to them. That has to do with the effort, with the character, with the guts that the boys had."

Afonso echoed his coach's sentiment ahead of another crunch match-up.

"It's difficult when you're missing the best players in history in their positions," he said. "But we got to keep working, and we got to try our best."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Inter Miami – Jordi Alba

With stars Messi and Suarez on international duty, Jordi Alba will be expected to step up once more for the Herons.

The former Barcelona full-back has two goals this year in MLS, as well as five assists – that creative tally is only bettered by Messi (13) and Julian Gressel (six) among Miami team-mates.

Columbus Crew – Diego Rossi

Diego Rossi remains an integral figure in attack for the Crew, whose Javier Hernandez (five goals) has only scored more than the forward's four in 10 MLS games this year.

With other Uruguayan colleagues at the Copa, Rossi will hope to extend his fine scoring form here.

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

Miami may be leading the way in the East but a draw appears the most likely outcome at Chase Stadium.

The Herons have never lost a home match against the Crew (W2 D1), though Columbus did earn their first away point against David Beckham's Miami-based side on the last visit to Fort Lauderdale, a 2-2 draw in July 2023.

Martino will hope to continue a strong run of form with another victory, however.

Miami have won eight of their last 11 regular-season matches (D2 L1) following a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on Saturday. Since that run began in mid-April, Martino's side have managed 26 points and scored 28 goals – both league-leading figures.

Yet Columbus should not be ruled out for a win either.

The Crew have won four straight regular-season away matches for the second time in club history after a four-match run in August-September 2015.

Columbus have lost only one of their last 11 regular-season road matches, dating back to last September (W5 D5), and that streak could continue here.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Inter Miami win – 37.4%

Columbus Crew win – 36.3%

Draw – 26.4%

Leo Afonso scored an incredible 94th-minute winner as Inter Miami fought back to beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in MLS on Saturday despite being reduced to nine men.

Miami's grasp on top spot in the Eastern Conference looked like being weakened when Gerardo Martino's team – who were without both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as Argentina and Uruguay continue their Copa America preparations – fell behind after three minutes.

Mikael Uhre's one-on-one finish put the Union ahead, but Miami levelled just after half-time as Julian Gressel fired into the top-right corner from the centre of the box.

The Herons, though, found themselves up against it when both David Ruiz and Tomas Aviles were sent off, the former for a horror challenge on Leon Flach and the latter earning a soft second booking for kicking the ball away.

With the Union throwing men forward in search of a winner, they were struck with a sucker punch.

Afonso raced away on the counterattack, ignoring Benjamin Cremaschi to his right before slotting his finish past Oliver Semmle to hand Miami an eighth win in their last 11 games (two draws, one defeat).

Data Debrief: No Messi, no problem

Ahead of Saturday's game, Miami had only won three of their 14 matches without Messi since the Barcelona great arrived in MLS (five draws, six defeats).

However, even without Messi, Suarez or a full complement, Miami showed they are the team to beat in MLS this year.

Martino's team ended the game having enjoyed more possession (57.4 per cent), shots on target (four to three) and touches in the box (17 to 16) than Philadelphia, despite playing almost 40 minutes at least one player down. 

Saturday's MLS clash between the Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami will require both teams to cope without key players, but Jim Curtin is viewing it as an opportunity.

Miami will be without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez for the match, with the duo preparing to represent Argentina and Uruguay, respectively, at the Copa America.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, will have to make do without 10-goal leading scorer Daniel Gazdag, who is part of Hungary's squad for Euro 2024.

Asked about the difficulties of coping without Gazdag, Curtin pointed out that Miami will also need to adjust and highlighted 20-year-old midfielder Jack McGlynn as an example of a player who could stand to benefit. 

"He's not a 10 but he has the passing range to unlock a defence," Curtin said of McGlynn. "Maybe he does it from a deeper position, but we might need him to be a little more aggressive.

"Unfortunately, he won't be passing the ball to Daniel Gazdag so all these things weigh in, just like Jordi Alba won't be combining with Messi. 

"Both teams aren't at full strength, so we have to make the most of what it is. I see this as an opportunity to bring out players' skills, like with Jack."

Miami lead the way in the Eastern Conference with 35 points, 15 clear of the eighth-placed Union having played two additional matches.

Since Messi joined the Herons last year, they have only won three of 14 matches without him, drawing five and losing six. 

The Argentine's minutes were managed ahead of him linking up with Argentina, which coach Gerardo Martino says was necessary. 

"With the passage of time, one sees the body does not recover in the same way," he told TyC Sports this week. 

"He understands it, he sees that there are trips that are high-risk and long. That's why we started to agree on when it is necessary for him to stop."

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Philadelphia Union – Jack McGlynn

McGlynn, who is expected to play a major role for the United States at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, has two goals and four assists this season.

That first figure is a joint career best, while the latter is a new personal benchmark. The cultured left-footer could be set to play a central role at Subaru Park.

Inter Miami – Sergio Busquets

With Messi and Suarez absent, it could be down to Busquets to lead the way for Miami. 

The Barcelona great trails only Riqui Puig (1,330) for successful passes in MLS this year (1,115), and four of his 17 chances created have become assists. 

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

Miami have won two of their last four away games against Philadelphia (one draw, one defeat). 

They are one of just three teams (alongside New York City and Orlando City) with multiple road wins over the Union since the start of the 2021 season.

Philadelphia have struggled at home in general lately, going six regular-season matches without a win (two draws, four defeats) at Subaru Park. 

Since last September, they have only won two of their 13 league games on home soil (seven draws, four defeats), with only two MLS sides collecting fewer home points than their 13 since that run began.

However, with both teams missing key players, it is difficult to have much confidence in either. A draw could be on the cards, with Miami lacking their usual firepower. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY 

Philadelphia Union – 38.4%

Inter Miami – 35.2%

Draw – 26.5%

Lionel Messi has ruled out the possibility of participating in the Paris Olympics, conceding "it would be too much to play two straight tournaments".

Messi is gearing up for Argentina's Copa America title defence, which begins against Canada on June 20, while they will also face Chile and Peru in Group A.

The final takes place on July 14, with the Olympic tournament beginning in Paris 10 days later. 

With three overage players allowed per team in the primarily under-23 event, leading to speculation that Messi could feature for La Albiceleste.

However, the 36-year-old, who was a gold medallist in Beijing 16 years ago, revealed he would not be partcipating following a discussion with Argentina under-23s coach - and former team-mate - Javier Mascherano.

"I talked to Mascherano and the truth is we both understood the situation," Messi told ESPN.

"It's hard [to think about the Olympics right now] because we're in Copa America. It would be two, three straight months of not being with the club, and more than anything, I'm not at an age to be in everything.

"I have to choose carefully, and it would be too much to play two straight tournaments. I've been very lucky to play in the Olympics, and win it together with [Mascherano].

"It was a wonderful experience on a football level. Olympics, under-20s, memories I'll never forget."

Lionel Messi knows his illustrious career is running out of time as the Argentina great suggested his club playing days will end with Inter Miami.

The Barcelona legend completed a switch to MLS side Miami last year after two decades of European football with the Blaugrana and Paris Saint-Germain.

As Messi starts to prepare for Argentina's Copa America defence this month, retirement remains a pertinent question for the global superstar.

The 36-year-old, speaking to ESPN, acknowledged Miami will likely "be my last club" as the fear sets in over ending his playing career sooner rather than later.

"I've done this all of my life; I love playing ball," the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said on Wednesday. 

"I enjoy the practices and the day-to-day, the games. There's a bit of fear that it's all ending. It's always there. It was a difficult step leaving Europe to come here [Miami].

"The fact we won the World Cup helped, it helped a lot, to see things in another way. But I try not to think about it, I try to enjoy it.

"I do that more now because I'm aware that there's not a lot of time left. So I have a good time with the club, being lucky to have good team-mates and friends at my side.

"I enjoy my time with the national team, where I also have good friends, too, and a lot. I enjoy those small details that I know I'll miss when I stop playing."

Messi is Barcelona's all-time top scorer with 672 goals, as well as lifting four Champions League trophies amid a glittering career.

Yet the ageing forward insists World Cup glory in 2022 remains his crowning moment, following in the footsteps of late Albiceleste great Diego Maradona.

"Obviously, I was sad that he couldn't experience what we experienced [winning the 2022 World Cup], because I know what he felt for the national team and what he would say about Argentina being world champion again," he added.

"We went through a World Cup together which aside from the result was an impressive experience, going through that day-to-day with him, how happy he was, seeing him enjoy being the manager.

"So I try to remember all the good times that we had together. I know that he loved me a lot, and I loved him, despite what was said in the media.

"The reality is we had a lot of affection for each other, and since he met me he was always supportive and wanted the best for me.

"It was a shame that he couldn't live to experience it like the rest of the country did."

Lionel Messi has cast doubt upon his chances of playing at a 13th major tournament for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup.

The Inter Miami star will turn 39 during that tournament, which takes place in the United States, Canada and Mexico in two years' time. 

The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner has seemingly left the door ajar to a final swansong at the world's biggest international tournament, though he admits his participation will be dependent on how he feels as he edges closer to the end of his glittering career. 

"It depends on how I feel, on how I am physically," Messi said in an interview with Infobae. 

"I have to be realistic with myself and know if I am up to the task of being able to compete and help the team-mates next to me. There is some time left, and I don't know how I will be at that moment. 

"Age is also a reality, although it is a number, and the games that I am going to play [at Inter Miami] are not the same as the ones I played when I was in Europe. 

"It will depend on how I feel, what I feel when I'm next to my team-mates, and I'll see if I'm still up to par or not."

Messi has 12 goals and nine assists in 12 MLS appearances this season, with the Argentina captain set to lead his country's bid to retain their Copa America title in the coming weeks.

La Albiceleste kick-off their campaign against Canada on June 20 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Messi believes the competition at this year's tournament is as strong as it has ever been. 

"I think that Argentina is always favourite," he said. "When a tournament starts, be it a World Cup, Copa America or whatever, Argentina is a candidate just like Brazil and more so in this Copa America. 

"But I think that today the South American teams are very strong. Uruguay are very good, as are Colombia and Ecuador. I think it will be a very level Copa America."

Lionel Scaloni will take charge of Argentina at a fourth international tournament and will be hopeful his number 10 can lead them to glory once more. 

Amid talk it could be Messi's last competition with his country, Scaloni wants supporters to focus on the present, rather than looking to the future. 

"We Argentines are too melancholic. We are already thinking about the day when he is not there, when he is still playing," Scaloni told Telemundo Deportes.

"Let's enjoy it and we'll see tomorrow, because I think the present is so important, not only for Argentina, because, in the end, Leo plays for those who like football. Someday it will happen."

Lionel Messi heads off to Copa America with Argentina after starring once again in MLS, with Jordi Alba calling on Inter Miami to battle in the forward's absence.

Former Barcelona forward Messi made MLS history on Sunday, reaching 25 goal contributions in just 12 appearances this term to shatter the previous fastest record held by Carlos Vela (16 in 2019).

Messi was on target in the 3-3 draw with St. Louis City, while Alba – who assisted Miami's first two goals – salvaged a point at Chase Stadium with a late leveller in a thrilling contest.

Yet Gerardo Martino will not have Messi to call upon for the foreseeable future, as the legendary attacker prepares for Argentina's Copa title defence.

"Knowing the player that he is for us, it's hard, but the team will continue to compete as much as possible, and that will be noticed," Alba said of Messi's absence. 

"It's an important absence for us, but we hope he does well in Copa America, we hope he has a great tournament and joins us again when it's time.

"If that's after the final, well – but in the meantime, the team will continue to fight and play."

The 2024 Copa runs from June 20 to July 14, with Inter also potentially losing players to the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris at the end of next month.

Martino remains aware of the availability issues that could follow for the Eastern Conference leaders, though Messi leaves with Miami's well wishes.

"In today's game, Leo was practically responsible next to Jordi for the participation of the attack," the Miami head coach said.

"He was involved creating chances, he insisted throughout the game. He finished the game well – and now will do what has corresponded to him his whole life, which is play for Argentina."

Argentina face Ecuador and Guatemala in warm-up fixtures before opening their Copa defence against Canada on June 21.

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