Daily Kickoff - 8.24.23
What you need to know

US Open Cup Final set

After Wednesday night's thrilling semifinals, two of Major League Soccer's biggest stars will collide in the 2023 US Open Cup Final. Inter Miami CF and Lionel Messi are set to host Houston Dynamo FC and Héctor Herrera on Sept. 27. Houston have now officially qualified for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup.

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The Recap

A couple of big results last night. Plus at least one result you might have expected. Let’s talk it out.

FC CINCINNATI - 3 | INTER MIAMI CF - 3 (MIA win 5:4 on PKs)
L. Acosta (18'), B. Vazquez (53'), Y. Kubo (114') | L. Campana (68', 90+7'), J. Martínez (93')

What happened?: Everything. Again.

Stop me if you’ve heard it before, but FC Cincinnati were the better team for the majority of the game and got out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Lucho Acosta and Brandon Vazquez. Then Lionel Messi found Leo Campana on a free kick to bring Miami back into the game, Cincy missed a ton of chances to kill the game and Messi found Campana with a stunning cross in stoppage time to send the game to extra time. The Herons and Josef Martinez immediately scored, but Yuya Kubo equalized minutes later. Inter Miami won on penalties thanks to a Drake Callender save. Yawn. Next plot point, please. Derivative. Seen it. Simpsons did it better. Etc...

So, did we learn anything?: Upon Messi’s absurd equalizing assist, The Internet immediately went into their big old bag of “GIFs To Tweet” and came up with the Breaking Bad scene where Jesse Pinkman is screaming “HE CAN’T KEEP GETTING AWAY WITH IT.” But that’s not the Breaking Bad moment that sums this whole thing up. For the first time I can remember, The Internet is wrong. The correct Breaking Bad moment to sum up this Inter Miami team comes when Pinkman is discussing the plot-armored villain of the show, Walter White, with the two characters tasked with stopping him.

“Look, you two guys are just… guys, okay? Mr. White... he's the devil. You know, he is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I'm telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, okay?"

Right now, the rest of MLS are those guys. They can plan, they can execute almost perfectly on that plan, but, in the end, Inter Miami aren’t just better because of Messi. They’re luckier. Define “luck” however you’d like here. It probably has way more to do with Messi being the best player on the planet rather than random chance repeatedly falling in Miami’s favor, but that doesn’t change what it feels like. Messi alone isn’t the reason for winning three consecutive high-stakes penalty shootouts. Probably. Maybe.

Anyway, Miami will be heavy, heavy favorites in the US Open Cup final. They may not even need penalties to win it all. But last night did provide another interesting data point for when the Herons finally begin MLS play this weekend. Remember, the math here suggests they’re going to need about 27 points over the final 12 games to make it into one of the two Wild Card round spots in the East. If seventh-place Atlanta continue on their current pace, Miami would need around 34 points to avoid the Wild Card. Both options somehow feel plausible at this point, but the team as a whole did look like it understandably needed a little rest last night. And in MLS play, draws don’t turn into wins. They’re just draws.

In seven games against MLS opponents, the Herons have earned 15 points in regulation. That’s 2.14 points per game and a pace good enough to win the Shield over 34 games. Over 12 games, that’s 25 points. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more interested in anything like I am Miami’s chase for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs here. I genuinely can’t wait to test how strong the Messi-made plot armor is. If it’s good enough to get them into the playoffs, then it’s definitely good enough to win the whole thing, too.

H. Herrera (45+5'), A. Carrasquilla (105'), L. Caicedo (120+5') | A. Julio (64')

What happened?: These two played to a stalemate in regulation before Houston took off a bit in extra time. Coco Carrasquilla made the difference for Houston. With the win, Houston have officially qualified for next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup.

So, did we learn anything?: Houston earned a CCC spot and the chance to take on Inter Miami that they missed out on in Leagues Cup after a disastrous couple of minutes against Charlotte. They’ll absolutely be up for it. This group still has a ways to go before they have the quality to compete with the best in the league, but it’s a solid roster and the xDawg is high. Very high.

No matter what happens in Miami though, this is another big moment for a team that we’ve repeatedly pointed to as building toward something better. New ownership, a revamped front office and an investment in analytics are beginning to pay off, and although progress isn’t linear, I think we can expect Houston to keep moving forward.

For now, I think they can just sit back and enjoy the fact they’ve found a way into the continent’s biggest tournament and have a chance at taking down a giant, with a trophy on the line. My confidence in their ability to pull off that upset might be largely dependent on whether Coco Carrasquilla is still around after the European transfer deadline and a few rumors go away. But still, it’s an accomplishment for them to be in this situation. And it’s another momentum builder in year one under Ben Olsen as they head into an offseason that might include a new DP signing or two. Even better things may be on the way.

M. Bogusz (19'), C. Vela (29'), R. Hollingshead (36'), C. Olivera (83')

What happened?: LAFC won. 

So, did we learn anything?: Nope. But, just a reminder that LAFC only have two midweek games left. They’re going to be relatively fresh the rest of the way. Good luck everyone.

Other Things

Portland Timbers striker Niezgoda out with ACL tear: Portland Timbers striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda will miss the remainder of the 2023 MLS season after suffering a torn ACL. The 28-year-old Poland native got injured in Portland's defeat at Houston Dynamo FC last weekend. He will undergo reconstructive surgery in the coming weeks and his timeline for return is approximately nine months.

Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Yarbrough out with knee injury: The Colorado Rapids’ announced Tuesday that starting goalkeeper William Yarbrough is out for 6-8 weeks following a knee injury. Yarbrough recently underwent successful surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. The timeline could rule the 34-year-old former US international out for the remainder of Colorado’s 2023 campaign; the regular season ends Oct. 21 with Decision Day contests.

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Good luck out there. Take care of yourself.