Messi legend grows - KO
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Nashville to host Miami in Leagues Cup final

The 2023 Leagues Cup is guaranteed to have an MLS champion after Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF won their semifinals on Tuesday night. Nashville and Miami have also locked up spots in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup (CCC) via their guaranteed top-two finishes in Leagues Cup. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Union will vie for the third CCC spot via Leagues Cup when meeting Liga MX's CF Monterrey in the Third-Place Game. The final is set for Aug. 19 at 9 pm ET at GEODIS Park.

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A. Bedoya (73') | J. Martínez (3'), L. Messi (20'), J. Alba (45'+3'), D. Ruíz (84')

What happened?: Josef Martinez immediately opened proceedings with a remarkable goal from a tough angle, and Inter Miami were immediately off and running. Moments later Lionel Messi scored from distance, and, despite the Union peppering the Herons with shots, Inter Miami were in full control of the game. Jordi Alba scored on the break just before halftime and David Ruíz finished things off at the end of the game. Inter Miami scored on four of their five shots while the Union put just one of their 16 shots in the net. It’s rough out there.

So, did we learn anything?: Man, what a weird one to try and analyze. To some extent, exactly what we thought might happen actually happened. The Union were able to pile on shots against Inter Miami. The final xG tally ended up 2.36 to 0.73 in favor of Philadelphia. Game state plays a big factor in that of course – Josef’s opening goal instantly changed the chemistry of the game – but it’s hard to know exactly where you draw the line between “That’s probably not sustainable” and “Lionel Messi is an otherworldly supernatural force.” 

I think it’s probably safe to assume on some level that allowing Inter Miami a few inches of space at any moment could change the makeup of the game. And it’s officially safe to say at this point that we’re witnessing the most remarkable turnaround in MLS history. That Jason Kreis quote from 2014 about Lionel Messi being unable to win in MLS if placed on the league’s worst team is growing more stale by the day. There have obviously been a few more additions along the way during Inter Miami’s dramatic change, but those additions likely aren’t here without Messi. Maybe Kreis was actually right. But I don’t think the current roster sans Messi would be the worst team in MLS at this point. Maybe close. Not the worst.  

To take one more shot at framing this all up real quick: Inter Miami won five times in 22 MLS games this year. Since Messi and co. arrived, Inter Miami have won five times in six games and clinched a Champions Cup spot. We’ll never see anything like this again.

S. Surridge (67'), F. Picault (90'+6')

What happened?: A perfect Nashville game. Just straight from the drawing board. Nashville allowed a handful of chances to Monterrey but limited major opportunities. Nashville struck in an instant thanks to new DP Sam Surridge and very-much established DP Hany Mukhtar. Nashville closed the game out late as Monterrey pushed for an equalizer. Perfection. 

So, did we learn anything?: Nashville came into this tournament in a bad way. They seemed to have forgotten how to win. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see them come off a stretch of five losses in six games and totally faceplant in the group stage. Instead, they’ve used the tournament to find themselves and take down Cincinnati, Club America, and CF Monterrey. Somewhere in between all that, they found the time to thump a red-hot Minnesota side 5-0. There’s no doubt about it, we’re talking about one of the great runs by an MLS team in the history of the league. 

I’m not exactly sure what’s changed. It’s not all Sam Surridge, although I think we can all agree at this point that he’s been far more impactful than even the most optimistic Nashville fan could have expected. But I don’t care how you take down the team on pace for the best season in MLS history, the biggest team on the continent and one of the best teams on the continent; if you do it, I’m going to be extremely impressed.  

Nashville have done something truly special here. They’ve already earned a Concacaf Champions Cup spot. Now, they have to do one more truly special thing. Slowing down this Inter Miami team might, improbably, be their toughest test of the tournament. But they’ve survived all of the other tests that seemed a little too tough on paper. What’s one more?

Other Things

LA Galaxy sign Sheffield United legend Sharp: The LA Galaxy have signed veteran English striker Billy Sharp. The 37-year-old arrives through the end of the 2023 MLS season with an option for 2024, as a free agent after last playing for and captaining boyhood club Sheffield United. Sharp has amassed 266 goals and 75 assists over his nearly-20-year career spanning 690 matches.

Seattle Sounders sign midfielder Rothrock: Seattle Sounders FC have signed midfielder Paul Rothrock through the remainder of the 2023 MLS season with options in 2024-25. Rothrock, a Sounders FC Academy product, signed with Tacoma Defiance in January following a two-year stint with Toronto FC II. He has led Seattle’s MLS NEXT Pro side with five assists in 2023, in addition to three goals.

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Good luck out there. Take down a giant if you get the chance.