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Feb 21, 2024 3:40 pm

Messi, Inter Miami open as heavy MLS Cup favorites

Messi, LAFC

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami open the 2024 Major League Soccer season on Wednesday night, and they do so as heavy favorites to claim their first MLS Cup title.

With a star-studded roster, Miami is the +250 title favorite at BetMGM, well ahead of Los Angeles FC (+800) and the defending champion Columbus Crew (+900). The same trio of favorites are +300, +750 and +800 at DraftKings.

Messi already is universally recognized as the greatest player of his generation — and potentially ever — after leading Argentina to the 2022 World Cup and winning his eighth Ballon d’Or last year.

The addition of Luis Suarez gives Messi a third former Barcelona teammate on Miami’s squad and a much-needed secondary goal-scoring option. A combination of the timing of his summer debut and injuries meant the majority of Messi’s goals came outside of league play in 2023. Leonardo Campana was Miami’s top league goal scorer with nine.

Suarez — who has said this will be his final professional season — scored 17 goals and added 11 assists in 36 games for Gremio last season in Brazil’s top division. And while Messi still is the headliner, his old-turned-new attacking partner also is a reason the Herons are oddsmakers’ strong favorites to win the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield.

“It’s clear we haven’t won anything yet,” Jordi Alba, another Miami and former Barcelona teammate, told MLSsoccer.com. “We want to win every trophy we’re playing for. It’s going to be very complicated because there are some very well-prepared teams with the same dreams as us, but I think we have a very good team.”

MLS CUP ODDS (BetMGM/DraftKings)
Inter Miami (+250/+300)
Los Angeles FC (+800/+750)
Columbus Crew (+900/+800)
FC Cincinnati (+1200/+1200)
Philadelphia Union (+1400/+1200)
New York Red Bulls (+1600/+1400)
Seattle Sounders (+1600/+1600)
Orlando City (+2000/+2200)
Atlanta United (+2200/+2800)
Houston Dynamo (+2500/+2000)
Los Angeles Galaxy (+2500/+2500)
New York City FC (+2800/+2500)
Nashville SC (+2800/+3000)
St. Louis City SC (+3300/+3000)
Sporting KC (+3300/+3000)
Austin FC (+4000/+5000)
New England Revolution (+4000/+4000)
Real Salt Lake (+4000/+5000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+4000/+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000/+4000)
Portland Timbers (+5000/+4000)
Minnesota United (+6600/+4000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6600/+5000)
D.C. United (+6600/+5000)
CF Montreal (+6600/+6500)
Chicago Fire (+6600/+6500)
Charlotte FC (+6600/+6500)
Toronto FC (+8000/+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000/+10000)

Miami has received overwhelming title support at DraftKings, where Messi’s crew has been backed by 75 percent of the bets and 72 percent of the handle. Next closest is Columbus, which has drawn just 4 and 5 percent, respectively.

Columbus is the second biggest liability at BetMGM, where the Crew lead all teams with 14.5 percent of the bets and 19.4 percent of the money since opening at +1200. The biggest liability are the Colorado Rapids, who open the season with the longest odds in the league at BetMGM at +10000.

Messi is the +250 favorite at DraftKings to be MLS’ top goal scorer this season, drawing 25 percent of both the bets and handle. The second shortest odds belong to Suarez at +600.

Miami will begin the season against a Real Salt Lake side that finished fifth in the Western Conference last season and lost their first-round playoff series to a Houston Dynamo side that reached the West final.

The Claret and Cobalt have influential midfielder Pablo Ruiz back after he underwent knee surgery last August. And they’ll presumably have a full season with Cristian Arango, the Colombian striker who scored six times in 11 matches following his transfer from Liga MX’s Pachuca last summer.

Even so, RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni is under no illusions about the difficulty of Wednesday’s challenge against Messi and company.

“One of the greatest players of all time for a reason,” Mastroeni, who was born in Argentina but grew up in Arizona, said of Messi. “It’s very tough to game plan around a player that can make a difference at any moment of the game.”

Miami is the -175 favorite at BetMGM, where it has been backed by 89 percent of the money to beat Real Salt Lake (+400) to begin the 2024 campaign.

–Field Level Media

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