With or Without Messi, Inter Miami Eyes Its Second Trophy

Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami will clash with the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup final at home on Wednesday, hoping to win its second trophy this year.

The South Florida franchise won the inaugural Leagues Cup in August, the team’s first major trophy to date. Messi and his former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have been crucial to the team’s success since making their MLS debut this summer.

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Co-owned by soccer legend David Beckham and the Mas brothers, Inter Miami was in last place in MLS’ Eastern Conference when the Argentine soccer star arrived. Their journey to the U.S. Open Cup final—which began in April, before Messi’s arrival—has been extraordinary, competing with the league’s seasoned teams. The team made it to the final after a movie-like penalty shootout against Eastern Conference leader FC Cincinnati last month.

But on Wednesday, Miami will face the Dynamo without at least one of its most prominent stars: Alba will miss the final, and Messi will be a game-time decision, coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino told reporters in Tuesday’s press conference. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was subbed out in the first half of a regular season game against Toronto on Sept. 20 because of a leg injury and did not play against Orlando last weekend.

The tournament’s Spanish language rights holder Telemundo still expects a big night. The Florida-based network sent full studio coverage to DRV PNK Stadium to cover what could be Messi’s 45th career trophy.

Like Apple, Telemundo has enjoyed Messi’s move to the MLS franchise. In August, the network became the official Spanish broadcaster of the 2023 U.S. Open Cup semifinals and final, marking the first domestic Spanish-language coverage of the tournament since the 2018 final.

Inter Miami’s Open Cup semifinal against Cincinnati recorded a total audience of 1.2 million viewers across NBCUniversal channels Telemundo, Universo and streaming service Peacock. It was the No. 1 ranked program for audiences aged 18-to-34 regardless of language, according to the network. The network’s coverage of Tigres UANL vs. Chivas de Guadalajara in May averaged 3.3 million viewers, making it the No.1 overall sporting event on Spanish language television in the U.S. in 2023 to date.

The U.S. Open Cup winner will take home $300,000 in prize money and secure a spot in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions Cup.

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