St. Louis expose Inter Miami's flaws in Messi last game pre-Copa America

Lionel Messi scores his 12th goal in 12 games for Inter Miami (0:57)

Lionel Messi's one-timer in the first half ties the score between Inter Miami CF and St. Louis City SC. (0:57)

MIAMI -- Following Saturday's final whistle, Inter Miami CF head coach Gerardo Martino addressed the media with a calm yet serious facade while knowing he would have to answer a series of questions about another questionable performance.

For the second consecutive game, Miami lost points at home, drawing 3-3 with St. Louis City at Chase Stadium. The team failed to secure the advantage in 90 minutes of action, constantly playing catch up against a quicker Western Conference opponent.

The Herons rarely shy away from the fight needed to complete a comeback, especially with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez leading the line. The deadly duo have previously led Miami to 18 points out of 35 in that dramatic fashion, as either Suarez or Messi have scored in all six come-from-behind victories of the 2024 MLS season.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Now, Inter Miami will need to prove themselves without the key figures as Messi joins the Argentina national team for the Copa America and Suarez is likely to be called up by Uruguay in the coming days. There are no more starting formations to put into practice or players to analyze before being put to the ultimate test. Martino will now be forced to navigate the difficult MLS schedule without some of his best players.

So, who will replace Messi and Suarez in Miami's attack? The two constantly work to present a confident and capable offense to overcompensate for a weak defense. 32 out of Inter Miami's 42 goals in the MLS Season have come from either a goal or assists from Messi or Suarez, a shocking 76% of the total. Three out of every four goals the Herons score are a result of one of the two South American stars.

And the deadly duo proved their worth again on Saturday, propelling the team forward in the most desperate moments.

The first half saw Inter Miami concede first for the 12th time this season, after Chris Durkin fired a right-footed strike into the upper right corner of the goal from just outside the box. Jordi Alba and Federico Redondo watched helplessly as the ball found the back of the net, knowing a come-from-behind victory was now a must. And like he did against Nashville SC on April 20 and the New England Revolution on April 27, Messi found the equalizer with a left-footed rocket of his own. After weaving through three defenders, he initiated the goal-scoring play by finding Alba on the left and instructing his former Barcelona teammate to provide the pass once inside the box.

Throughout this season, Messi's Miami teammates have looked him for magic when pushing forward, resulting in the Argentine's third-place ranking in the league for most goals with 12 and first-place ranking for most assists with nine. It was no different against St. Louis, as midfielders Redondo and Sergio Busquets relinquished the ball to Messi in the quickest fashion, regardless if he was in a position to receive a pass or not.

But his efforts provided little comfort to the home team, after another defensive error by Sergii Kryvtsov inspired St. Louis City to regain the lead with a goal from former Herons figure Indiana Vassilev. In a one-on-one situation, Kryvtsov failed to keep up with the rhythm necessary to stop Vassilev or complete the required tackle to avoid the goal. The Ukrainian, instead, left goalkeeper Drake Callender to deal with an impossible situation.

The struggling backline has been a topic of issue for Inter Miami with a whopping 27 goals against, tied for the fourth most conceded in the Eastern Conference with last place New England Revolution. Martino previously revealed it's the most talked about subject when in training and before a match.

But Suarez came to the rescue this time for Miami, mimicking the efforts he displayed against the New York Red Bulls on May 4 and CF Montreal on May 11 to calm nerves by bringing the score back to 2-2. Though his heroism was momentarily cut short due to an own goal, Alba vindicated the team with a third to level the game at 3-3.

Still, the Inter Miami consensus was clear following the match: Messi's efforts inspired a point.

"Leo was practically responsible for the participation of the attack. He was involved in the definition of strikes, and he insisted throughout the game. He finished the game well, and now will do what has corresponded to him his whole life, which is play for Argentina," said Martino.

On April 27, Martino revealed the goal was to attain 24 points out of the eight games remaining before the Copa America and Olympics window but the Herons managed only 17. The team will be without their best player, and several other figures, for five matches: Philadelphia Union (June 15), Columbus Crew (June 19), Nashville SC (June 29), Charlotte FC (July 3), and FC Cincinnati (July 6).

The Messi-Suarez safety net will come off and Inter Miami players will be left to deal with the consequences of a broken backline.

The situation becomes dire for Inter Miami when understanding that the upcoming opponents will likely lose one, if any, players during the international window.

"When we have Leo, every team plays against us like it were a final. So then we have to play every game like it's a final if we want to achieve what we aspire to," said defender Marcelo Weigandt.

Now, Martino must anticipate more difficult matches as opponents see an opportunity to dethrone Inter Miami from the top spot on the Eastern Conference table.