Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will play in a major semifinal for the second time in eight days when they visit FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup.
Messi and the Herons will be only four days removed from their remarkable run to win the inaugural 2023 Leagues Cup, defeating Nashville SC on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Saturday night's final.
It will be Miami's third consecutive road match and Cincinnati may represent, arguably, its toughest opponent yet.
Cincinnati currently leads the race for the MLS Supporters' Shield, awarded at the end of the season to the team with the best regular-season record. They have taken an impressive 34 out of 36 possible points in 12 league home games, being held to a draw only by New England on July 1.
Miami opened as the -105 favorite at BetMGM, but those odds have lengthened to +130 while 91 percent of the match bets and 93 percent of the money wagered has backed the Herons. Cincinnati has drawn just 7 and 4 percent of the action, respectively, while its odds have shifted a bit from +170 to +150.
The public sentiment is clearly backing Messi and Miami, and for good reason. But Cincinnati has an outstanding home record as it attempts to avoid consecutive losses for the first time this year across all competitions.
Our Pick: FC Cincinnati 2, Inter Miami 1
The lone Miami goal in regulation of the Leagues Cup final came from Messi, his 10th of the tournament, as he started his sixth consecutive match after making his debut for his new club off the bench in the tournament opener.
Despite a heavy workload for Messi, Herons manager Tata Martino says the Argentine superstar will still be in the starting lineup Wednesday.
The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, awarded to the top player in the world each year, has delivered a dynamic and busy start to his Inter Miami tenure after previously playing for top clubs FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
"We said that at some point he would have to rest because of the load of minutes played," Martino told reporters Monday, according to a translation from ESPN FC. "Clearly, Wednesday is not going to be that day. If he does not tell me he wants to rest, he will continue to play."
But the Orange and Blue are actually facing a shorter turnaround than the Herons, following a 3-0 loss at Columbus in their return to league play Sunday after the conclusion of Leagues Cup.
"There's no relief after a performance like that," Cincinnati manager Pat Noonan said. "You try to use some of the things that we saw (against Columbus) in a negative way to build and have a better overall team performance on Wednesday."
Another Argentina product — Luciano Acosta — currently leads Cincinnati and is tied for second in MLS with 12 goals.
Messi to Score Anytime Goal (-125 at BetMGM): Messi has 10 goals through his first seven games in Miami, so it's difficult to pick against him extending the hot streak if he told Martino he's ready to play. This has been the book's second-most popular prop pick for the match, just ahead of Messi at +400 to score at least twice.
Most Popular Messi Props
—Lionel Messi to score anytime goal (-125)
—Lionel Messi to score 2 or more goals (+400)
—Lionel Messi to score 1st goal (+320)
—Lionel Messi to score 3 or more goals (+1400)
—Field Level Media