(Photo credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
New York City FC are prepared for possibly facing Lionel Messi for the first time.
Suddenly ascending, NYCFC hope they can do enough to get the crucial three points that come with a victory Saturday night when they visit Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with Messi questionable with a leg injury.
NYCFC (8-10-13, 37 points) are attempting to get three straight wins for the first time this year and have scored eight times during a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) that has elevated them into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. NYCFC begin the week with the same point total as CF Montreal, but with three fewer wins.
"We're going to have to be as good as we can be defensively," NYCFC coach Nick Cushing said. "We've been good over the last few weeks so we'll have to retain that."
With three matches remaining, NYCFC are attempting to fend off D.C. United, whom they visit next week and lead by one standings point. NYCFC are also three ahead of the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire.
NYCFC kept the streak intact with a 3-0 home win over Toronto FC on Sunday afternoon. Andres Perea scored in the second minute while Andres Jasson and Julian Fernandez also tallied as NYCFC scored three goals for the third time this year.
Messi's presence is helping Miami (9-15-5, 32 points) get within striking distance of the final playoff spot. Miami has earned 10 of those points in Messi's four league matches by going 3-0-1 with him in the lineup.
He played 37 minutes on Sept. 20 during a 4-0 win at home against Toronto, but he sat out Sunday's 1-1 draw at Orlando City. Messi was on the sidelines when David Ruiz scored midway through the second half before it allowed the tying goal to Duncan McGuire.
Miami has two games in hand over NYCFC and held out Messi for its 2-1 loss to Houston in the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday. As of Friday, there appeared to be little clarity to his status as fans paid inflated prices to possibly see him.
"I know that his presence is of interest to people in terms of whether to buy a ticket or not," Inter Miami coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said earlier this week. "What we want is to try and win the game."
--Field Level Media