1 of 5 | Inter Miami continues to struggle amid Lionel Messi's injury hiatus. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Inter Miami experienced a resurgence when Lionel Messi joined the team, but the Herons' playoff aspirations continue to fade because of the soccer star's absence due to a leg injury.
The Herons lost 4-1 to the Chicago Fire on Wednesday in Chicago, failing to earn a point (three for a win or one for a tie) and missing a chance to move up in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
"Our chances still exist minimally, but they no longer depend exclusively on us," Herons manager Tata Martino told reporters Wednesday at a postgame news conference.
The Top 9 teams in the Eastern Conference and Top 9 in the Western Conference will advance to the playoffs.
The Herons (9-16-6) remain in 14th place in the standings, three points behind No. 13 Charlotte FC. They are five points behind No. 9 Montreal.
Just three games remain on the Herons' schedule. With three wins, they can earn nine points, but are no longer in control of their own destiny. They need losses from other teams in the standings, in addition to wins down the stretch.
The Herons sat in last place (15th) when Messi arrived.
Messi, 36, officially joined the Herons in July. He made his debut July 21 in a Leagues Cup win over Cruz Azul. The Herons won nine-consecutive times through Messi's first nine games, but eight of those wins came in tournaments and did not impact MLS standings.
They then drew with Nashville SC and beat LAFC, earning four points in the standings. The Herons beat Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 9, their first game without Messi, who was on international break to play with Argentina. Atlanta United beat the Messi-less Herons 5-2 about a week later.
Messi returned to the lineup for a Sept. 20 win over Toronto FC, but left that game before halftime because he aggravated a leg injury.
The Herons are 0-1-2 in MLS since Messi sat out.
"Of course we are going to miss the best player in the world, when we win or when we lose," Martino said.
The Herons will host FC Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday and Charlotte FC on Wednesday at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. They will finish the regular season with a game against Charlotte FC on Oct. 21 in Charlotte, N.C.
Martino told reporters Wednesday that Messi is "closer to playing again." The team will evaluate the Argentine star Thursday and Friday to determine his availability for the FC Cincinnati match.