Daily Kickoff 8.20.23
What you need to know

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are Leagues Cup champions

Lionel Messi's golazo and Drake Callender's shootout heroics have delivered Inter Miami CF's first-ever trophy after the Herons beat Nashville SC 10-9 in penalty kicks during Saturday night's Leagues Cup 2023 Final.

Philadelphia Union down Monterrey for CCC spot

The Philadelphia Union have clinched a 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup berth after a 3-0 victory over CF Monterrey in the Leagues Cup Third-Place Game on Saturday evening at Subaru Park.

MLS is back

A full slate of games today! You have until 7:30 pm ET to recover from the Leagues Cup Final before you’re legally obligated to watch MLS for five hours. Prepare accordingly and check out the full schedule here.

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Your Leagues Cup Kickoff

That’s that.

NASHVILLE SC - 1 | INTER MIAMI CF - 1 (MIA wins 10:9 on PKs)
F. Picault (57') | L. Messi (23')

What happened?: Nashville did a great job of keeping Lionel Messi off the ball for about 23 minutes and then they did a great job of defending him when he got on the ball and then it just didn’t matter. Messi picked up a loose ball outside the 18-yard box, worked his way around Walker Zimmerman, saw four other Nashville players directly in front of him who were fully prepared to stop him by any means necessary and then decided it was a good time to curl the ball into the top left corner. Unreal.

Nashville got back in the game though. It didn’t quite have the same aesthetic beauty, but it counted all the same when Fafa Picault helped ease the ball into the net off a corner kick.

The match seemed set to go to penalties until the very last moment of the game. Leo Campana got in behind the entire Nashville defense, worked his way around the 'keeper and, with the ball spinning away from him, slid to kick the ball into an empty net…and somehow smacked it off the post. A perfect ending to regulation.

Penalties went about how you’d expect. Both teams traded outstanding takes and a couple of saves until it came down to the two goalkeepers. Miami’s Drake Callender blasted his penalty past Nashville’s Elliot Panicco and then saved Panicco’s attempt to give Inter Miami their first trophy.

So, did we learn anything?: Phew, I don’t know, y’all. I feel like I still have some head trauma from the Campana moment at the end. Best I can tell though, we got as good a final as we hoped for. Messi had a moment of magic, Callender had the star-making performance I predicted back in like June (seriously, go look it up), and everything about the event felt big. I don’t think we could have asked for anything more.

It’s hard to take away much more than that with a game decided on penalties. But, obviously, both teams have something to build on here as they return to MLS play next week. It’s fair to wonder though, did Nashville add too many miles to their legs to really gain any momentum? Is a post-Leagues Cup run the same as a post-CCL run? What about Miami? They have to turn around now and prepare for the US Open Cup semifinal against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday before they even get a chance to start chipping away at their place in the standings.

Which, hey, by the way, a quick note on that: Inter Miami played six games against MLS teams in Leagues Cup. If we only take regulation results into account, they won four games and drew two. That would be a pace of 2.33 points per game. If they kept that pace over their final 12 games, they’d finish with 46 points. That could be enough to avoid the Wild Card game between the eight and nine seeds and should be enough to at least get them over the line. But that’s not a given. There’s still a lot of work to do if they want to be a playoff team. Then again, how much do you really care when you’ve already earned a major trophy this year?

Leagues Cup 2023

What happened?: A whole bunch of goofy nonsense and some genuinely incredible games. 

So, did we learn anything?: Yeah, there’s something working here. I’ve talked to a decent amount of folks who had a blast from start to finish watching this thing. I’ve even started to like the idea of having a little mini break in the season right before we enter the home stretch. It all seemed to work and we got to learn a decent amount about how Liga MX and MLS teams compare. At least on some level. I think we potentially might have just gotten a reminder that road games are hard, but there are still interesting data points here. 

Anyway, considering how much attention it got and how much fun it ended up being, I’d imagine everyone involved ramp up the intensity for 2024. We know what to expect from the tournament now and I think teams from both leagues will value it even more now that we have proof of concept. Let’s do it again next year, yeah?

Your Sunday storylines
Kickoff - Story 2 - 8.20.23

I know everyone is still recovering from last night, but we have MLS matters to attend to. Take some Pedialyte, get a nap in and get ready to get back to work tonight. Let’s take a quick look at the evening’s biggest storylines.

Hell is realer than ever (again)

We get to move from the insanity of last night directly into hell (is real). And it might be better than ever.

We definitely said that in the first meeting between these two teams this year, but this one might be even more intriguing. Both teams have made major changes at the top of their rosters and we should get our first real look at those tonight. Diego Rossi is set to make his debut as Columbus’ newest DP and Aaron Boupendza is set to make his full MLS debut as Cincy’s newest DP. Throw in the Crew’s new wingback, elite chance creator Julian Gressel, and it feels like the Crew have improved since the last time these two met. There’s a chance Cincy have done the same. With the Crew chasing a spot in the top four and Cincinnati chasing the MLS points record, this could be special.

St. Louis and Austin and the wild west

St. Louis and Austin meet tonight in a game that isn’t quite a six-pointer, but will have an impact on the other six-pointers going on in the conference tonight.

The West is as messy as it gets right now. St. Louis sit on top of the conference and five points ahead of fourth-place Seattle. Austin sit on top of the second tier of the conference in fifth place. They’re four points behind Seattle and four points ahead of 10th-place Minnesota United. By the time we reach Decision Day, the standings may look very, very different. Heck, by the time we reach Monday, the standings may look very, very different.

St. Louis vs. Austin is the most critical game considering their place in the standings, but sixth-place San Jose takes on seventh-place Vancouver tonight. Ninth-place Houston takes on 12th-place Portland with just three points separating the two. With about 11 games to go for each team, I think we’re officially at the point where we can say these games will shape the playoff race. And we can say the teams chasing St. Louis for the top spot in the West and the teams chasing Austin for a spot near the top will be paying close attention to what happens at CITYPARK tonight.

Seattle and Atlanta try and break a slump

I won’t harp on it too much. It feels like we’ve been talking about it all year. But it’s been a weird year in Seattle and an uncomfortably middling year in Atlanta. Seattle have great underlying numbers, but have struggled in attack and struggled to grab points for months now. Atlanta have talent at the top end of their roster, but have been lacking quality. Both Seattle and Atlanta have still been good enough to grab 36 points and 35 points, respectively.

They’re both coming into this one a little low though. Either that or they took some time after crashing out of Leagues Cup to rejuvenate a bit. Atlanta at least added a few new pieces set to make their MLS debut tonight, including midfielder Tristan Muyumba and winger Xande Silva. Maybe some extra time and extra health and, in Atlanta’s case, extra players, will break both teams out of their slumps.

It’s a strange spot right now for two of the league’s most followed clubs. This should have been a Game of the Week-style matchup. Instead, it feels like we’re watching and waiting for either team to look like the best version of themselves again. I’m not sure that’s going to come this season.

Other Things

Los Angeles games postponed due to inclement weather: The MLS Matchday 27 games between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake and LAFC and Colorado Rapids, originally scheduled for Sunday evening, have been postponed due to safety considerations resulting from inclement weather and forecasted storms in the Los Angeles area stemming from Hurricane Hilary.

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Good luck out there. If you want it done right, do it yourself.