Busy 2024 looms for Lionel Messi and Inter Miami, and club is figuring out how to make it work

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Inter Miami is putting together its preseason schedule, one that will likely have somewhere between four and six games early next year. There's a 34-game Major League Soccer season. There'll be appearances in the Leagues Cup, the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Oh, and there's national team duties for some players, too.

Add it all up, and Lionel Messi — the eight-time Ballon D'Or winner who turns 37 next summer — and many of his Inter Miami teammates will be asked to play a ton of soccer in 2024. And keeping Messi and other players as available as possible is part of the team's thinking as it formulates its plan for next year, Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said Monday.

“I think the challenge is, from our performance staff, what can we do as a club to support these players and make sure that they are able to give as many minutes as they can,” Henderson said. “But there are times when we're going to have to balance the schedule.”

Injuries were an issue for Inter Miami down the stretch this season, and Messi — who had a very busy schedule after joining the team, with the Leagues Cup tournament going on as well as U.S. Open Cup and MLS matches — eventually was slowed by a leg problem. Messi told reporters after an Argentina match in October that "it was very hard for us, playing every three days, with travel, with training.”

“We’re not machines, we’re not robots,” Sergio Busquets, another of Inter Miami's big midseason signings this summer, said in September. “We’d love to play all the matches and not be tired and not have injuries. But it’s something we can’t control.”

Henderson said teams will rely on their depth when the schedule is at its busiest. It's also a good problem for teams to have going forward. Taking part of the CONCACAF Champions Cup is of particular significance to the club in 2024, coming on the heels of it winning the Leagues Cup title for its first trophy — the record 44th championship for the club and country in Messi's legendary career.

“I do think there’s a lot of discussion at the league level in how we can alleviate some of these international windows and the congestion of the schedule,” Henderson said. “But I think with the amount of tournaments that teams are taking part of with international duty, it’s very hard to figure out. There’s just isn’t enough game days to sort it all out.”

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