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After being treated to the appetizer of Lionel Messi in Leagues Cup play where the Argentine star led Inter Miami to the title while registering 10 goals and one assist, we're beginning to enter crunch time where he'll now need to lead them to a playoff berth against all odds. It's a picture that's getting rosier for the Herons, as they've even shown an ability to win without Messi, toppling Sporting Kansas City 3-2 at home to draw within six points of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. It's becoming harder and harder to bet against Miami as the team begins to show that even without their talisman, they can still be a force.

While the Herons are inching closer to controlling their own destiny, they'll still need help from teams around them especially during the October international break that will see them square off against Charlotte FC twice. Leonardo Campana wasn't called up to Ecuador for the September international break but after scoring a brace against SKC, he could be knocking on the door in October making Tata Martino's job harder.

During the September international break, Serhiy Kryvtsov has already was called up by Ukraine, Messi, Robert Taylor, and Josef Martinez will also be with their nations. Even Drake Callender and Benjamin Creamashi have been called up to the United State men's national team, giving Miami will have holes in the roster which Martino will need to work around. New signings Diego Gomez, Tomas Aviles and Facundo Farias will make that easier to do but everyone will need to contribute to weather the storm. 

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Over the last three seasons, the line for ninth place was 43.3 points. While it's a small sample size due to expansion clubs being added left and right and Nashville flipping conferences every year, it at least provides a marker for what Miami need to do to have a shot. Currently on 25 points, they'd need to average two points per game to make that line so let's see if that's possible based on the remaining schedule.

Miami's current position in the standings

Total points: 28
Record: 8-4-14
Eastern Conference position: 14th
Games remaining: 8

Miami's upcoming schedule and predictions


Sept. 16

5 p.m. ET

@ Atlanta United

Atlanta United 3, Inter Miami 3

Sept. 20

7:30 p.m. ET

Toronto FC

Inter Miami 5, Toronto 0

Sept. 24

7:30 p.m. ET

Orlando City SC

Orlando City 1, Inter Miami 2

Sept. 30

7:30 p.m. ET

New York City FC

Inter Miami 2, NYCFC 0

Oct. 4

8:30 p.m. ET

@ Chicago Fire

Chicago 1, Inter Miami 3

Oct. 7

7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati

Inter Miami 2, FC Cincinnati 3

Oct. 18

8 p.m. ET

Charlotte FC

Inter Miami 2, Charlotte FC 0

Oct. 21

6 p.m. ET

@ Charlotte FC

Charlotte FC 1, Inter Miami 3

If my crystal ball is correct, that would put Miami on 47 points which would've missed playoffs before their expansion to allow eighth and ninth in, but could put them on pace for a berth this season while also creating a nightmare for the one seed in the conference if they can win the play-in round. It's also important to note that the tiebreaker for MLS is the number of wins and not goal difference and that's where Miami could have a large advantage due to not drawing many games this season compared to the teams in front of them in the table.

Margins are thin as the projections not only have a small sample size but they also don't take into account that ninth place is a bigger incentive than in years past. Miami have a mountain to climb in the league but with Messi, the Herons have already achieved history so they can't be ruled out from keeping the incredible form going. Nobody has been able to stop them just yet even the reigning MLS champions.