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FORT LAUDERDALE, United States, Sept 21, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Inter Miami shrugged off an injury concern to Lionel Messi to boost their Major League Soccer playoff hopes with a a 4-0 thrashing of Toronto FC 4-0 on Wednesday.

Messi returned to the starting line-up after skipping Saturday's 5-2 defeat at Atlanta due to muscle fatigue but left the field in the 38th minute looking uncomfortable.

His former Barcelona team-mate, Spaniard Jordi Alba who had also sat out the trip to Atlanta, also limped off three minutes earlier in the game.

Miami coach Gerardo Martino said the pair are now ruled out for Sunday's Florida derby with Orlando City and was uncertain about their involvement in next week's US Open Cup final.

"We have to go day by day, see the doctor's report, what they tell us and we will decide. Obviously, there is no 'chance' that they will be there on Sunday," he said.

"I don't think it's anything new or bigger than what they had been having. It's just fatigue, I don't think there is a muscular injury," he said, defending the decision to play them.

"Everything was in place for the players to play ... There is no possibility (that they were pressured to play). If we made them play it was because they were fit to play"

"After talking to them, I don't have the same pessimism I had when I had to take them out," he said.

Despite the blow of losing their star and one of their most influential players, Miami swept aside the Eastern Conference's bottom club with ease, Messi's replacement Robert Taylor scoring twice after coming on.

Facundo Farias opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time with a blistering volley after Toronto keeper Tomas Romero had meekly palmed out a Noah Allen cross.

- 'Collective mentality' -

Taylor then made it 2-0 in the 54th minute with an outstanding individual strike, dribbling across the box from the left before unleashing a sharply angled drive back into the bottom corner.

Taylor then turned provider, releasing another substitute Benjamin Cremaschi who fired through the legs of Romero to make it 3-0.

Finland international Taylor completed his impactful performance with the fourth, bringing down a floated pass over the top from Farias and blasting home from close range.

The performance of Taylor, Cremaschi and other substitutes will give Miami confidence that they can maintain a push towards the post-season, even if Messi and Alba may need more time to get back to fitness.

"It shows guys are willing to step up, shows the depth we have on our team, and the collective mentality we approach each game with," said goalkeeper Drake Callender.

Miami, who travel to Orlando on Sunday, move up to 13th in the Eastern Conference and are now just five points off Wayne Rooney's D.C. United who occupy ninth spot, the final playoff position. Miami have two games in hand.

D.C United were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Atlanta while other results were also favourable for Miami.

Charlotte, who Miami have to play twice, are now just two points ahead of the Florida side after they let a two-goal lead slip in a 2-2 draw at home to Philadelphia, conceding a stoppage time penalty which was converted by Daniel Gazdag.

The draw guaranteed Philadelphia a place in the playoffs.

The Columbus Crew also secured their place in the playoffs beating the Chicago Fire 3-0 with Colombian Cucho Hernandez scoring all three inside 23 minutes -- the second fastest hattrick from the start in MLS history.

Tenth placed New York City kept their playoff hopes alive with a 2-0 win at home to second placed Orlando City. Despite the defeat Orlando are now sure of a place in the post-season.

Eastern Conference leaders Cincinnati needed a goal deep in stoppage time from Argentina Luciano Acosta to earn a point at eighth placed Montreal.
In the Western Conference, leaders St.Louis City were held to a goalless draw at home to champions Los Angeles FC.