Can Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami still qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs after losing to Chicago Fire?

Can Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami still qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs after losing to Chicago Fire?

in the immediate aftermath of Lionel Messi’s MLS debut for Inter Miami, it looked as if The Herons were destined to rise from the foot of the Eastern Conference and sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs positions. However, 

an ill-timed injury suffered by the Argentina captain has completely derailed their challenge, with a four-match winless streak all but ending their hopes of playing past the regular season.

Inter Miami’s Messi slump in form

David Beckham’s team took 10 points from a possible 12 between 28 August and 10 September, a run of form which came on the back of the winning the Leagues Cup and reaching the US Open Cup final. Everything looked rosy.

But an injury picked up by Messi on international duty has seen him play only 37 minutes in Inter Miami’s next six league fixtures, which have resulted in three defeats,

two draws and just one victory (and yes, the Florida side’s sole triumph came in the match he played some part in, at home to Toronto FC).

How do the MLS Cup Playoffs work?

The MLS Cup Playoffs are essentially two different knockout competitions, one for the Eastern Conference and another for the Western Conference.

Eight teams from each qualify for Round One, which is effectively the quarter-finals. The winners of those one-off matches progress to the semi-finals, which produce two finalists. The Eastern Conference winners then take on the Western Conference winners for the 2023 MLS Cup.

The top seven teams from each Conference qualify for Round One, with the one remaining spot decided by the wild card round,

which sees the teams finishing eighth and ninth face off in a single match.

The Herons looking for a Playoffs miracle

Inter Miami can no longer qualify automatically for Round One, as Nashville SC, currently in seventh in the Eastern Conference, are 12 points ahead of them,

with The Herons only having nine left to play for.

The best Messi and Martino can therefore hope for is qualification for the wild card round, but even that is almost out of reach. Following their victory over the Florida side on Wednesday, Chicago Fire, who have two games left,

have moved up into eighth place on 40 points, seven ahead of Miami, who can only get to 42 if they win their last three games (which looks unlikely, given their currently form).

Ninth-placed New York City FC, who have two games remaining and have 38 points, look more catchable, but Beckham’s

boys would also have to overtake CF Montréal (38 points from 32 games), D.C. United (37 points from 33 games), 

New York Red Bulls (37 points from 32 games) and Charlotte FC (36 points from 31 games).

In a bizarre fixture quirk, Inter Miami and Charlotte still have to play each other twice,

although the chances of The Herons winning their three remaining matches and five different teams all slipping up enough to be caught and passed appear somewhat remote.

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