Lionel Messi was substituted due to muscle fatigue in the 37th minute of Inter Miami CF's 4-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday, only minutes after his former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba had also left the field.
Miami coach Gerardo Martino said after the match that both Alba and Messi would be evaluated in the coming days, but that neither player would be available to play against Orlando City on Sunday so that they might be ready for the U.S. Open Cup final against Houston Dynamo next Wednesday.
"There is no chance they will be there on Sunday. I know we have a final to play [next Wednesday] but they won't go near the pitch if they can't play," said Martino.
Messi and Alba, who both started the game after not making the trip for Saturday's 5-2 loss at Atlanta United FC, were not involved in any particularly heavy challenges or visibly limping but were clearly in some kind of physical discomfort.
"They trained normally and we felt like they were ready to play," Martino said through an interpreter. "I don't believe it's anything new or anything worse than what they had before. It's fatigue. We don't think it's a muscular injury. That's also from a conversation that I just had with [Messi]. But we have to continue being careful and we'll look at him the next few days."
He added: "I'm cautious about what can happen and after talking to them, I'm less pessimistic than I was when I had to bring them off."
Both players went straight to the bench rather than the locker room after leaving the field, and Miami's Facundo Farías scored a goal shortly after to give the home team a 1-0 lead at halftime. Robert Taylor then scored two spectacular goals either side of a Benjamin Cremaschi strike in the second half to secure the three points.
Messi looked lively early and had a golden chance in the 23rd minute when his far-post volley was blasted over the bar from close range. However, 15 minutes later, it was clear that the Argentine was laboring due to some physical issue, and he was replaced by Taylor.
Alba had departed just four minutes before Messi. Toronto also made two substitutions before the Miami duo left the game, with another former Barcelona youth player -- Victor Vasquez -- forced off in the 12th minute. His replacement, Brandon Servania, then was helped off with an apparent knee injury just 14 minutes later.
Before coming off Messi spent a few minutes dealing with what appeared to be a leg issue. He was stretching his right leg during play, then eventually took off his captain's armband and simply waited for play to stop so he could depart -- not even waiting to come off the field before unlacing his cleats, lowering his socks and removing his shin guards.
Messi had missed his past two matches -- one for club, the other for country -- in recent days, after sitting out Argentina's World Cup qualifying win at Bolívia on Sept. 12, and the loss to Atlanta Saturday.
Fatigue was cited in both cases, and Messi was not made available for comment.
Wednesday's match was the first of six for Inter Miami in a span of 17 days. After the games against Orlando on Sunday and Houston in the Open Cup on Sept. 27, Miami plays three more MLS matches in short order against New York City FC on Sept. 30, at Chicago Fire FC on Oct. 4, and hosting FC Cincinnati on Oct. 7.
The result leaves Miami five points behind D.C. United, which drew 1-1 with Atlanta United FC on Wednesday, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with two matches in hand.
Messi entered Wednesday having appeared in 11 matches for Miami, most of them in Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup competition. He had 11 goals and five assists in those first 11 appearances, including one goal with two assists in three MLS matches.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.