The Leagues Cup, the competition between the clubs from Major League Soccer and Liga MX, will conclude with a final between MLS teams Inter Miami and Nashville SC.
Now the competition, which expanded this season to include all 47 teams from the two leagues, has reached its culmination with a final between the Lionel Messi-inspired Miami and their Eastern Conference rivals Nashville.
Here we look at five players to watch in the first final of this competition in its new format.
|What||Nashville SC v Inter Miami|
|Where||Geodis Park, Nashville, Tennessee|
|When||9 PM ET on Saturday, August 19th, 2023|
|How to watch||MLS Season Pass|
|Odds||Nashville +240, Inter Miami +100|
When Lionel Messi put pen to paper for Inter Miami, it was the biggest signing in American soccer history and the Argentinian has lived up to the billing in his first six games for the Herons.
Messi has netted nine times, including two direct free-kicks in the dying moments of games.
The first of those came in his first match against Cruz Azul to secure a group stage win for his team.
He then managed to net an 86th minute equalizer in Miami’s dramatic 4-4 tie with FC Dallas in the round of 16, where Miami advanced on penalties. He is -150 to score anytime in the final.
Messi has the most shots and most on target in the competition, and he is the top scorer. Without him, the team who sit bottom of the Eastern Conference would probably not have made the final.
The forward was Player of the Tournament in the 2022 World Cup and remains one of the best soccer players in the world. He has been showing his skill in abundance in the Leagues Cup.
The biggest stages have never been something that the Argentinian has shied away from and he could be set to write another chapter in his famous story on Sunday.
Another former Barcelona star, Sergio Busquets has joined Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba at Inter Miami and has already had a transformative effect on their midfield.
The rangy defensive midfielder is one of the best players to ever play the position and has made the transition to American soccer well, picking up space in midfield more easily than he was in La Liga.
Nashville will have to make it a priority to limit the supply into Busquets as he is often the starting point for many of Miami’s attacks and if he is allowed to get into a rhythm, his passes could be deadly.
Nashville are not without hope in this final and if they are to be successful they may need a big performance from their star man Hany Mukhtar.
The 28-year-old has registered seven assists and scored 13 goals in the MLS this season and has carried that form into the Leagues Cup.
Only Minnesota’s Emmanuel Reynoso has registered more assists than Mukhtar’s five in this year’s competition and Mukhtar has also chipped in with two goals of his own. He is +120 to score anytime in the final, the shortest odds on Nashville.
With 20 shots, the German is just two behind Messi and is clearly key to Nashville’s offense.
Playing as a creative midfielder, Mukhtar could be set to have a big impact on this game.
Sam Surridge made 20 appearances in the Premier League last season for Nottingham Forest but swapped English football for America, signing for Nashville this summer.
The striker has been successful in his short time with the Boys in Gold, scoring three times in his three appearances.
On debut Surridge netted a crucial 99th minute equaliser against Club America to send their round of 16 matchup to a penalty shootout, where he also netted his spot kick.
Surridge followed up with goals in both the quarter-final and semi-final but has come off the bench on all three occasions, with veteran forward Teal Bunbury preferred as a starter.
Whether he starts or comes off the bench, the Englishman looks set to have a big say in this match. Surridge is +225 to score anytime.
Josef Martinez has been another major beneficiary of Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami, he has scored three times in this Leagues Cup campaign and the 30-year-old is a good alternative to the Argentina star.
Martinez and Robert Taylor are likely to be tasked with running in behind while Messi exploits the space that they leave and he could well find the net in this final.
The Venezuelan is the Herons’ penalty taker so he could well be seen in action if a spot kick is given. He's +162 to score anytime in the final.