MLS Season: Messi's Impact, Underdogs Rise, and Playoffs Drama Unfolds
|Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates after scoring the team´s second goal during a FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier match between Peru and Argentina at Estadio Nacional de Lima on October 17, 2023 in Lima, Peru.(Image-Getty)|
The regular season of the MLS has been marked by intriguing narratives and remarkable shifts, prompting questions about the motivations and potential of prominent players in the league. As fans speculated about the commitment of certain seasoned players and the impact of their arrivals from European leagues, names like Billy Sharp and Lionel Messi captured widespread attention. Tom Dart's commentary highlighted the fascination surrounding these key figures and their roles in the unfolding MLS drama.
Speaking of Lionel Messi, his much-anticipated entry into Inter Miami during 2023 reverberated throughout the American soccer landscape, signaling a potential transformative shift. Graham Ruthven's account emphasized the significance of Messi's decision, underscoring its implications for the future of the league and the exciting prospects it might bring.
While the focus remained on prominent successes, the discussion also veered towards notable teams that failed to secure playoff berths. Inter Miami, despite a star-studded lineup comprising the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Josef Martínez, and DeAndre Yedlin, fell short, with their underwhelming performance throughout the season preventing their playoff aspirations from materializing. Emphasizing their potential and the narrative of missed opportunities, this team stood out as a prime example of unfulfilled potential in the MLS.
Amidst the playoffs, attention turned to the underdog contenders making a significant impact. Houston Dynamo, led by the seasoned Ben Olsen, demonstrated remarkable resilience, boasting a strong defensive line and the pivotal contributions of veteran midfielder Héctor Herrera. Meanwhile, Nashville SC, despite their lower seeding, proved their mettle, particularly in knockout situations, showcasing their adeptness at counter-attacking and their pivotal player Hany Mukhtar, creating an air of anticipation for their performances in the upcoming games.
In terms of players to watch, the spotlight fell on Roman Bürki and Duncan McGuire, both poised to make significant contributions to their respective teams. Bürki's outstanding season as the goalkeeper for St Louis City raised the possibility of his instrumental role in upcoming knock-out matches, while McGuire's impressive goal-scoring record and potential for further growth sparked speculation about his impact on Orlando City's playoff journey.
Conversely, discussions about individuals facing heightened pressure highlighted the case of Thiago Almada and Peter Vermes. Almada's stellar performance for Atlanta United, coupled with his absence in the opening game of the playoffs due to a red card, amplified the expectations on his return to deliver a compelling performance. Similarly, Sporting KC's Peter Vermes faced scrutiny following a challenging season, leading to intensified scrutiny of his managerial abilities in the playoffs.
The playoffs also brought the risk of unexpected defeats for prominent teams. Philadelphia Union, despite their previous MLS Cup final appearance, encountered challenges in their form and reports of unrest, raising concerns about their ability to progress. Meanwhile, Columbus Crew faced a tough hurdle in their initial round against Atlanta United, known for their formidable players such as Giorgos Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada, underscoring the need for Columbus to perform at their best to secure advancement.
Anticipation was rife for the upcoming conference finals and the MLS Cup final, with predictions suggesting intense matches ahead. Forecasts envisioned a closely contested Eastern Conference final between Cincinnati and Orlando, with expectations of a nail-biting 2-1 victory for Cincinnati and a 1-2 win for Columbus Crew. Meanwhile, the Western Conference final was projected to see LAFC secure a 2-1 victory against Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders triumph with a 1-2 win against Houston.
Ultimately, the MLS Cup final held the promise of an exhilarating clash between Cincinnati FC and Seattle Sounders, with both teams boasting impressive records and key players. While Cincinnati FC stood out with their exemplary regular-season performance and the dynamic contributions of Luciano Acosta, Seattle Sounders, led by Brian Schmetzer, showcased their defensive prowess and a proven track record of success during crucial moments. These forecasts set the stage for an enthralling finale, accentuating the competitive spirit and excitement surrounding the culmination of the MLS season.