Inter Miami hosts the Houston Dynamo in the final for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup trophy on Wednesday, Sept. 27, and Miami superstar Lionel Messi is a game-time decision as he recovers from muscle fatigue.
Messi was subbed off after 37 minutes two games ago and did not start the weekend’s match against Orlando City. Miami manager Tata Martino said the only reason the club is considering playing Messi on Wednesday is because the game is a cup final.
Houston has by far been the less talked-about team, but they’ve put together some impressive results in the last six weeks ahead of the final.
The Dynamo started their Open Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USL Championship, which is regarded as a level below Major League Soccer.
Houston beat fellow MLS sides the rest of the way, with a 1-0 round of 32 win over Sporting Kansas City, a 4-0 round of 16 win over Minnesota United, a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Chicago Fire, and a 3-1 semifinal win over Real Salt Lake.
The two teams come into the match riding high: Houston has won five of their last eight games while keeping four clean sheets, and Miami believe they can win any match as long as Messi plays.
The Dynamo has a well-rounded attack with three players who have 10 or more goal contributions in all competitions.
The triumvirate of Corey Baird, Amine Bassi, and Hector Herrera has caused problems for many defenses, and those three players are part of the reason why Houston is in fourth place in the Western Conference with four games left.
Another reason behind the Dynamo’s relative success this season: Goalkeeper Steve Clark, who has 11 clean sheets which is tied for the most in the league.
The rotating group of defenders in front of Clark includes Franco Escobar, Ethan Bartlow, Daniel Steres, Micael, Erik Sviatchenko, Griffin Dorsey, and Teenage Hadebe.
While those players have mostly played well together, Miami will hope the steady rotation catches up to the Dynamo and leads to a disjoined performance on Wednesday.
The addition of Messi, who also brought friends and former Barcelona teammates Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to Miami, gave the Florida-based club an injection of optimism that helped them lift the Leagues Cup.
Every Miami player has raised their level since Messi joined: Robert Taylor scored four and assisted three in the Leagues Cup while becoming a speedy vertical threat to run behind defenses, Leo Campana scored a skillful goal in Messi’s absence against Atlanta United, and goalkeeper Drake Callender and midfielder Ben Cremaschi each got United States Men’s National Team call-ups during the September international break.
Adding the Open Cup to their Leagues Cup trophy would further vindicate the already successful signing of the greatest player of all time.
Alba has been listed as doubtful for the match and with Messi a game-time decision, it's possible that Miami will play the final without their two best players who are quite possibly the best footballers in the United States right now.
Inter Miami are favored to lift the US Open Cup at -225, while Houston is priced at +162.
For Miami, Messi is -163 to score anytime, Campana is +140 to score anytime, and Josef Martinez is +160 to score anytime.
On Houston’s side, Bassi is +160 to score anytime, Ibrahim Aliyu is +240 to score anytime, and Baird is +250 to score anytime.
The over/under is 2.5 total goals.
Both teams are +1200 to win on penalties. Miami is -110 to win within 90 minutes.
Among the Bet Boosts offered are Miami forward Josef Martinez to score two or more goals at +1000, and Inter Miami to win 2-0 at +1100.