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MLS regular season review: Messi arrives, Cincinnati prove the team to beat

With the regular MLS season now over, it's time to look back on a campaign which saw Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi arrive with great fanfare to play in the US for Inter Miami.

The 2023 MLS season saw FC Cincinnati finish top of the Eastern Conference and win the Supporters' Shield which honors the best regular season team, while St Louis City were the Western Conference winners.

Over the course of the next six weeks, the teams who finished in the top nine in both the Eastern and Western Conferences will compete in the playoffs with the eventual winner lifting the MLS Cup and being crowned MLS champions on December 9th.

The postseason playoffs, which have already begun with two Wild Card games, will be the focus going forward for the teams involved, but here's a recap of how the regular season played out and how we got to this point.

Cincinnati enjoy fine season

Cincinnati ended up top of the Eastern Conference after winning 20 of their 34 regular season games. 

Pat Noonan's side finished six points clear of next-best Orlando City to not only seal a place in the first round of the playoffs but also a first-round spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Argentinian Luciano Acosta top the team scoring charts for Cincinnati with 17 goals and he was one of the standout players in the MLS this season, winning the Player of the Month award in both July and August as Cincy's key figure.

Goalkeeper Roman Celentano was another who shone for Noonan's team, keeping 12 clean sheets, as Cincinnati also comfortably finished top of the overall regular season table, winning their first-ever Supporters' Shield. 

Cincinnati will now hope to maintain their fine form into the postseason and they are favourites at +360 to win the MLS Cup.

Columbus, Philadelphia and New England make up top five

Beneath Orlando in the East, Columbus Crew finished third to seal their place in the first round of the playoffs, while Philadelphia Union edged out New England Revolution on goal difference to finish fourth. 

Atlanta United and Nashville made up the top seven in the Eastern Conference to also earn playoff places.

New York Red Bulls and Charlotte FC ended eighth and ninth to offer them a chance in the Wild Card match, which New York won 5-2 on Thursday.

That victory gives them a first-round playoff against Cincinnati, with the first game in the best-of-three series taking place on Monday. Unsurprisingly, Cincinnati are -110 favourites to win the opener, the draw is +280 and a New York victory is +280.

After finishing second in the East, Orlando are +900 to go on and win the MLS Cup, just behind Columbus at +700 in the outright market, Philadelphia are +1000 and New England +4000.

At the bottom, Toronto had a dismal campaign as they finished last in the Eastern Conference after managing to post just four wins throughout the regular season.

Messi inspires Miami to Leagues Cup success

Inter Miami failed to make the playoffs after finishing second bottom in the East, but Messi's headline arrival in the summer inspired them in the Leagues Cup, as the former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain star led them to glory in the month-long competition.

After weeks of speculation, Messi was finally confirmed as an Inter Miami player on 15th July and he made a sensational instant impact when scoring an injury-time free-kick on his debut to give his new side a 2-1 Leagues Cup win over Cruz Azul.

Messi settled immediately and scored nine goals in his first six games for Miami, including the opener in the Leagues Cup final against Nashville in August. Nashville equalised to take the game to penalties but Miami won 10-9 on spot-kicks after Messi had scored the first, as the 36-year-old played a huge role in helping Inter Miami win their first ever trophy.

St Louis City edge Western Conference

In the Western Conference, St Louis City came out on top in its inaugural season, edging out Seattle Sounders by three points. 

St Louis finished on 56 points after winning 17 of their 34 games and the Missouri club were involved in some memorable matches in the regular season.

They managed the biggest away win when triumphing 4-0 at Salt Lake in March, while their 6-3 home victory over Austin in August was the highest-scoring contest in the MLS regular campaign.

Bradley Carnell's side will play Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs and the Western Conference winners are +1200 to win the MLS Cup later this year.

Behind them and Seattle in the West, Los Angeles FC finished third, just ahead of Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake. Vancouver Whitecaps were sixth and Dallas FC finished seventh as they all earned a first-round playoff spot.

Sporting Kansas City were eighth and have already progressed to the playoff first round to take on St Louis after edging out San Jose Earthquakes, who had finished ninth in the West, beating them 4-2 on penalties after the Wild Card match ended goalless.

Seattle and LA among playoff hopefuls

Seattle are +900 to go on and win the MLS Cup, Los Angeles are +450 to be crowned overall MLS champions this year and Houston Dynamo are +1400 in that same outright market.

Colorado Rapids finished bottom, nine points adrift of the rest in the West, while LA Galaxy, Austin, Minnesota United and Portland Timbers all also failed to make it to postseason.

View the latest odds to win the MLS Cup here.

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