Inter Miami & Lionel Messi: Can they make Audi MLS Cup Playoffs?


Will Inter Miami CF and Lionel Messi pull it off?

We’re talking about reaching the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, a feat that’s looking more possible by the day (though by no means is guaranteed) as the GOAT has taken North America by storm since his mid-July debut.

Whether you’re an MLS expert or experiencing MLS for the first time (welcome!), let’s break down perhaps the question shaping the stretch run.

What are the playoffs? How do they work?

While most professional soccer leagues crown their champion via the overall table/standings, MLS utilizes a postseason tournament called the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

The top nine teams in each conference – Eastern and Western – qualify for the playoffs. Seeds get locked in after Decision Day, aka the last regular-season matchday on Oct. 21.

Once the bracket is set, teams compete to make MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9 at a to-be-determined stadium (highest remaining seed hosts).

What do Miami & Messi need to do?

IMCF must climb from 14th place to ninth place (or higher) in the Eastern Conference table, which would see them compete in the Wild Card round (held Oct. 25-26).

  • Messi & Co. have seven games remaining to make up a seven-point gap, surpassing five teams along the way.
  • Current projections indicate the club will need roughly 15 points (five wins) from the remaining 21 available.

Helping Miami, they have one or two games in hand on most teams above them. That affords some room for error, but not much. Somewhere around 43 points is historically good enough for ninth place (a playoff spot in this year’s expanded field).

International breaks and the jampacked nature of the schedule could hurt Miami, though. Head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has noted Messi could miss up to three games as well, so depth will be tested.

When do Miami & Messi play?
Lionel Messi: MLS Regular Season games in 2023
Aug. 26 at New York Red Bulls
Aug. 30 vs. Nashville SC
Sept. 3 at LAFC
Sept. 9 vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sept. 16 at Atlanta United
Sept. 20 vs. Toronto FC
MLS Season Pass (7:30 pm ET)
Sept. 24 at Orlando City SC
MLS Season Pass, FS1 (7:30 pm ET)
Sept. 30 vs. New York City FC
MLS Season Pass (7:30 pm ET)
Oct. 4 at Chicago Fire FC
MLS Season Pass (8:30 pm ET)
Oct. 7 vs. FC Cincinnati
MLS Season Pass (7:30 ET)
Oct. 18 vs. Charlotte FC
MLS Season Pass (8 pm ET)
Oct. 21 at Charlotte FC
MLS Season Pass (6 pm ET)

Schedule fast facts

  • Miami have gone 3W-1L-1D in league play with their new-look roster, a pace that may just see postseason dreams come true.
  • Of their seven remaining regular-season games, four are home at DRV PNK Stadium and three are away.
  • Every match is against an Eastern Conference team, creating a bunch of so-called "six-pointers" (i.e. big swings in the standings).
  • Atlanta United away (Sept. 16), Orlando City SC away (Sept. 24) and FC Cincinnati home (Oct. 7) project as their hardest tests.
What happens if Miami & Messi qualify for playoffs?

They would likely slot into the Eastern Conference Wild Card matchup, either as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. It would be a sensational turnaround, as Miami sat last (15th place) in the Eastern Conference before Messi joined and needed to make up a 12-point gap.

Check out the playoff schedule below, with a new Round One Best-of-3 series entering the mix in 2023.

  • Wild Card matches: October 25-26
  • Round One Best-of-3 series: October 28-November 12
  • Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals: November 25-December 3
  • MLS Cup presented by Audi: December 9
Wait, what about the Supporters’ Shield?

After the 34-game regular season (17 home, 17 away), the team with the most points is awarded the Supporters’ Shield. Note: This is different from MLS Cup and rewards longevity rather than the tournament-style playoffs.

Both trophies – MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield – have their merits, but the league title tends to carry more weight historically and in fans’ eyes. It’s also quite difficult to complete a Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double; only eight squads in league history have accomplished that.

Can Miami do it?

The odds aren’t in Miami’s favor. But the club’s transformational summer window – headlined by Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba – has turned them from looking destined for last place to storming up the table.

Some stats that only bolster Miami’s case:

  • Record with Messi: 7W-0L-4D across all competitions in regulation time, with the four draws turning into PK wins
  • Messi’s production: 11 goals & 8 assists in 11 games

All that’s to say it’s a daunting task. But one or two losses, especially while players are away on international duty/resting, wouldn’t be a death knell.

Don't forget about…

Miami have already won their first-ever trophy this season, beating Nashville SC for the Leagues Cup 2023 title – a match that booked their 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup spot. Miami will also play for a second trophy on Sept. 27, hosting Houston Dynamo FC for the US Open Cup Final.

Even without playoffs, and mindful of where Miami started pre-Messi & Co., that has to be considered a success.

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