Messi scored twice in Miami’s 3-1 victory over local rivals Orlando City in the Leagues Cup round of 32, while also receiving a yellow card and some rough treatment from opposition players in a feisty contest.
“The match the other day [vs. Orlando] was completely different from the previous ones, that is true,” Martino said at a news conference Friday. “There was more friction.
“I attribute it to the fact that there were many South Americans on the pitch. … And obviously there is a respect for the best player in the world, but the reality is that over the 90 minutes each team wants to win. And so it was deserving of him to play on the field the way that he did, and it served up notice to say, ‘Our team is here, watch out.'”
It has been a superb start to the latest chapter of the Argentine legend’s career, with five goals in three games, but all of those contests were at home.
Sunday’s Leagues Cup round of 16 game at FC Dallas will be the first test for Messi away from DRV PNK Stadium, where Martino faced the media before the trip to Texas.
Dallas sits eighth in the MLS Western Conference and lost six of its final nine games before this Leagues Cup break.
However, it has several potent attacking options who could cause problems for Miami’s much-improved back four.
“We expect the typical difficulties of a match like this because you can come out victorious or get eliminated,” Martino said. “But we will be visiting with a more complete team. Dallas has players with great potential from midfield on forward. Will have our work cut out for us.”
Health permitting, Messi and Sergio Busquets are expected to start the game, with fellow new arrival Jordi Alba‘s status still up in the air. The left-back arrived only last weekend and saw about 40 minutes of action versus Orlando.
Both Messi and Busquets were on from the opening whistle in their second appearance though, and Martino said a decision regarding Sunday’s lineup will be made Saturday.
Martino also said he was happy to see Messi give up a potential goal in Wednesday’s win when he let teammate Josef Martínez take a penalty kick, a decision that ended up taking away what could have been Messi’s first hat trick for Miami.
“It was nice of Leo to let Josef take it,” Martino said. “Sometimes we recognize the need of a player to score. Josef played very well in the last couple of matches, his work off the ball leading to Messi goals.”
If Miami prevails Sunday, it will be assured a home quarterfinal because of the Leagues Cup rule that home teams from the round of 16 onward will be determined by 2022 MLS records.
Both of Miami’s potential quarterfinal opponents on Aug. 11 or Aug. 12 — Charlotte FC and Houston Dynamo — finished lower in the final table last season.
But it’s this season Martino is focused on, and the well-traveled coach clearly knows the potential of his new-look team, which includes three young signees from South America in addition to the veteran ex-Barcelona trio.
“This is a team that’s improving, we’re still waiting for certain guys to join, and we’ve had very significant additions that have made us better,” Martino said. “Perhaps what we need now is only time, something that comes together as we go through the competition.
“We’re on a good path, and the quicker we can integrate — even the injured players — I think we have a very competitive team that will be much better in the future.”