With under two months of the season remaining, the race is on to make the MLS Cup Playoffs and Messi's Inter Miami has a lot of ground to make up.
Lionel Messi’s arrival has sparked new interest in MLS, but there was already a thrilling battle happening towards the top of both conferences.
After a busy week which saw two full rounds of games, here’s a look at the standout clashes and the impact they’ve had on the standings.
|2023 MLS Cup Playoffs
|USA & Canada
|Saturday February 25th to Saturday October 21st (regular season); Wednesday October 25th to Saturday December 9th (playoffs)
|How to watch
|FC Cincinnati +400, Inter Miami +700, Los Angeles FC +800, Philadelphia Union +1000, St Louis City SC +1000
Inter Miami have made a huge jump in the odds, moving up to second-favorite to lift the MLS Cup in December.
Lionel Messi has already led them to the Leagues Cup and the US Open Cup final, but can he inspire an incredible turnaround in the league?
Messi played his first two MLS games over the last week, coming off the bench to score in a 2-0 win over New York Red Bulls before playing the full 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw with Nashville.
That return has already lifted Inter Miami off the bottom of the Eastern Conference, leaving them 10 points shy of the final postseason berth.
Inter Miami have played the fewest games of any side in the East. They have 10 games remaining to turn their campaign around and given the mood shift so far, it’s hard to back against them doing it.
While Inter Miami’s morale is high, Cincinnati extended their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference to 11 points over the last week. A 3-0 win over New York City was followed by a 2-1 victory at Atlanta United as they made the perfect return to league action.
Cincinnati came close to beating Messi’s side in the US Open Cup semi-finals and they bounced back from that penalty shootout loss in impressive fashion. They’re now 10 points clear of any side across the division, having won 17 of 26 games this term.
Cincinnati look set for the Supporters’ Shield and it’s easy to see why they’re MLS Cup frontrunners. They’re the +400 favorite having won four of their last five league games.
The New England Revolution are second in the East but the franchise doesn’t feature in the top five when it comes to the MLS Cup betting. New England have enjoyed an impressive campaign, but a 1-0 loss to Montreal is a concern.
A big part of New England’s success this season has been their defence, but losing Djorde Petrovic to Chelsea could cost them. Losing a quality goalkeeper with little chance to replace him will weaken their hopes, especially in the playoffs.
However, their defeat at Montreal also displayed a real lack of creativity. New England failed to create openings in that trip and while they bounced back with a 1-0 win over the Red Bulls, it’s easy to see why they’ve started to drift in the odds where they're now +1000 to lift MLS Cup.
It was a mixed return for the top two in the Western Conference, with both St Louis City and LAFC losing one of their two games.
Once again, St Louis slipped up on the road, suffering their sixth away defeat of the campaign in a 2-1 defeat to Orlando City.
St Louis bounced back with a 2-1 home win over Dallas, keeping them seven points clear of LAFC.
The defending champions LAFC beat Colorado Rapids 4-0, but they fell to a 2-1 loss at Charlotte which adds to their woes after a poor run.
LAFC have now won just two of their last eight in the league, which could open the door for the Seattle Sounders.
Seattle picked up four points from visits to Minnesota United and Austin, which are two tricky trips. Those two have just six home defeats between them this term, following Seattle’s 2-1 win at Austin on Wednesday.
The Sounders have one of the best defensive records across all of MLS and in Stefan Frei they have arguably the standout goalkeeper. Leaders St Louis City have just three home games remaining, so there’s an opportunity for Seattle to make up some ground.
Seattle is +800 to top the Western Conference.