Messi Set For Inter Miami Debut In Leagues Cup Versus Cruz Azul

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Messi-mania will hit its crescendo at DRV PNK Stadium in Florida on Friday night when Lionel Messi makes his debut for Inter Miami against Cruz Azul in the first round of the Leagues Cup.

The 36-year-old global soccer icon officially joined Inter Miami last Saturday on a 2 1/2-year contract following a free transfer from French side Paris-Saint Germain. Having added the last piece to his glittering resume last year with Argentina’s World Cup title in Qatar, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has massive expectations to elevate Major League Soccer somewhat similar to what David Beckham — now owner of Inter Miami — faced when he arrived from Real Madrid to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

Though Messi is expected to play in this contest, Inter coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has not publicly stated whether the striker will start or come off the bench. The reserve route is more likely given that Messi has participated in only a handful of practices with the club and has not played a competitive match since wrapping up his PSG tenure June 3.

Messi’s arrival stateside has seen mobile sportsbooks scrambling to elevate Inter Miami’s profile for sports wagering options, with the previously less-heralded Leagues Cup the immediate beneficiary. This is the first year the tournament has included all 47 clubs from MLS and Liga MX, with both leagues pausing their domestic seasons for a month.

Inter’s opponent, Cruz Azul, won the inaugural edition in 2019. The top three finishers will qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, with the winner securing automatic entry to the round of 16.

The GOAT needs to be the GOAT in South Beach

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If ever a team needed Messi to be its savior, it’s Inter Miami. Vice City has a league-low 18 points, five wins in 22 league matches, and is winless in its last 11 league matches with eight losses and three draws. Inter Miami has three draws and a loss since Martino took over after the firing of Phil Neville last month.

Inter is last in the 15-team Eastern Conference and 12 points adrift of the final postseason berth, but Martino brings plenty of institutional and player personnel knowledge into this tournament as former national coach of the Mexican team from 2019-22. He also coached Messi for the 2013-14 season in Barcelona, finishing runner-up to Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

Given the uncertain status of how much playing time Messi will get — it could range from the final quarter-hour to as much as 60 minutes if Martino includes him at kickoff — it is not surprising to see anytime goal offerings fluctuating wildly among oddsmakers.

Some books are affording Messi plenty of respect, with Barstool Sportsbook offering the shortest odds for a goal at -140 as of 10:30 a.m. ET on Friday. Bet365‘s listing of -138 is a close second, while Caesars Sportsbook is also feeling a Messi goal at -133.

On the flip side, the best place to grab an anytime goal by Messi is currently BetMGM, where the odds got longer overnight to +120. That also occurred at Betway, which ticked to +115, while FanDuel’s shortened to +110. PointsBet had a notable lengthening of odds, going from -115 Thursday night to even money (+100).

There are some books with deeper offerings for Messi. Barstool has a +120 listing for the Argentina international to notch an assist and has him +160 to score in the second half. BetRivers, however, has a +250 listing for Messi to pick up a helper, and DraftKings chimes in at +150.

For those thinking Messi’s goal will break a scoreless deadlock, Betway is the place to head with its +400 listing. BetMGM is a distant second at +350, followed by FanDuel at +330 and BetRivers at +310.

In pondering the assist market, Inter has a proven goal-scorer in Josef Martinez, who leads the team with six goals in all competition. The Venezuela international remains light years from his pre-torn ACL form, when he bagged 63 goals in 71 league matches for Atlanta United in 2018-19. Helping Messi in the midfield will be Robert Taylor, who shares the team lead with five assists.

For this match, Messi may be able to lean on one of his former Barcelona teammates as central midfielder Sergei Busquets could also see action as a reserve. Beckham and Inter have spared no expense to make Messi comfortable — beyond Busquets, another former Blaugrana teammate, Jordi Alba, will join them in the coming weeks, and multiple outlets are reporting 39-year-old Andres Iniesta will further recreate “Barca West.”

Cruz Azul the right opponent at the right time

Cruz Azul’s last top-flight Mexican title came with winning the Guardianes in 2021, more commonly known as the Clausura in Liga MX. La Maquina, though, have gotten off to a slow start in the Apertura and are the only side without a point after losing all three of their matches by a combined 6-1 score.

But there is good news for Ricardo Ferretti, as Uriel Antuna and Carlos Rodriguez are available or selection after leading El Tri to the Gold Cup title over Jamaica earlier this month. Antuna, who played for the Galaxy in 2019, had a pair of assists in the Gold Cup and also totaled six goals and an assist in 16 matches for Cruz Azul in the Clausura.

Still, La Maquina are heavy underdogs for this contest, with listings ranging from +220 at Tipico to +200 at BetMGM and FanDuel.


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