1 of 5 | Striker Lionel Messi appeared to sustain a leg injury and left the field in the first half of Inter Miami's 4-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI | License Photo
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Inter Miami showed dominance Wednesday, extending a 12-game unbeaten streak with Lionel Messi in its lineup. But the Herons' shutout was soured when the Argentine departed because he aggravated an injury.
Messi, who favored his right leg, exited in the 37th minute of the 4-0 victory over Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Herons manager Tata Martino said he doesn't consider the injury major.
"He had an old injury that had been bothering him from games he played with the national team," Martino said at a postgame news conference.
"He didn't show any muscle injury, so we [brought him off] to be safe."
Herons defender Jordi Alba also left the game early because of an apparent injury. Martino cited fatigue for Messi and Alba, and said they would be evaluated this week.
The Herons are now 11-0-1 with Messi in the lineup, but could be further challenged in their climb from the bottom of the MLS standings and into playoff contention, should the star striker miss more time.
Wednesday's win helped the Herons, who are 9-15-4 in MLS play, climb to No. 13 gtp, No. 14 in the Eastern Conference standings, with six regular-season games remaining. The top nine teams in each conference go to the postseason.
Striker Robert Taylor, who replaced Messi, scored twice and logged an assist in the win. Benjamin Cremaschi and Facundo Farias scored for the Herons' other goals. Cremaschi and Noah Allen also logged assists.
"We have to play sometimes without them [Messi and Alba] and it's important for the rest of us to step up," Taylor said.
Messi, who returned from international break and appeared in the Herons' lineup for the first time a since Sept. 3 win over LAFC, attempted three shots before his departure.
Herons striker Josef Martinez threatened early on, but could not convert for first blood. Reds striker Deandre Kerr also had several close attempts in the 13th minute, with one hitting off the right post.
Messi followed less than 5 minutes later with his first shot, a rip from about 20 yards out. Reds goalie Tomas Romero denied that attempt.
Messi misfired another attempt a few minutes later, drilling a volley over the net at the near post. He was then slowed by his ailment. He briefly remained on the field, but was noticeably bothered by his lower-body ailment. He then limped to the sideline.
Farias broke the deadlock in the third minute of first-half stoppage time. Defender Noah Allen, who replaced Alba in the first half, set up that score when he fired in a cross from the left side.
Romero used his hands to deflect the cross away from the goal, but Farias finished the play with a one-touch volley, blasting his shot into the right side of the net.
Taylor doubled the Herons lead in the 54th minute.
Allen passed off the the forward while inside the box during that sequence. Taylor then opened his dribble to his right, breaking away from several defenders. He unleashed an 18-yard shot, beating a diving Romero and finding the far-post netting.
Cremaschi added a third Herons goal in the 73rd minute. Taylor slid a pass inside the right side of the box, sparking that score.
Cremaschi raced behind defenders to pursue the feed. He used his first touch to place a shot inside the left side of the net.
He went on to assist the final score of the match about 14 minutes later.
Cremaschi received a pass near the top of the box at the start of that play. He split several defenders before chipping a short pass ahead for Taylor, who tapped the ball down. Taylor then finished the play with a powerful right-footed shot into the top of the net.
The Herons will play Orlando City in another MLS match Sunday in Orlando, Fla. They will face the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final Sept. 27 in Fort Lauderdale.
The Herons, who have 31 points, are five points behind DC United (36), which holds the No. 9 and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.