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The Pitch - Matchday 35: Top Things to Watch in MLS this Week

September 26, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release


FC Cincinnati's Supporters' Shield Dream is Within Touching Distance

After a 3-0 win this last weekend, FC Cincinnati have a chance to clinch the Supporters' Shield on Matchday 35, which would be the club's first trophy in their five-year MLS history.

Cincinnati built on their first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance in 2022, climbing to the top of the Shield standings in 2023 with a current nine-point lead over second-place St. Louis CITY SC. Winning the Shield would be a feat beyond just MLS history, as FC Cincinnati would become the first team across the top five U.S. men's professional sports leagues to finish last in three consecutive seasons before winning a regular season title within the two years that followed.

Head coach Pat Noonan and general manager Chris Albright have been the brains behind the reclamation project over the past two seasons. Since arriving in 2022, Noonan has refurbished the sporting culture within the team to one fitting of a champion and implemented an assertive style of play that has become the club's on-field identity. Albright's recruitment of key figures, such as midfielder Obinna Nwobodo and U.S. Men's National Team defender Matt Miazga, has also reinforced the team with elite-level talent across the field.

No champion is complete without its leaders and star players, though, and Cincinnati found both in midfielder Luciano 'Lucho' Acosta. The Argentine midfielder's 27 goal contributions in 2023 leads MLS, and the potential Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate's 15 goals sees him tied for first in MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi standings. After signing a new contract with the club last week, Acosta made a long-term commitment to building a tradition of trophies in Cincinnati, one that could start with a Shield win this weekend at Toronto FC on Saturday, September 30 (7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass).

LAFC & Tigres Chasing Intercontinental Glory in Campeones Cup

The Campeones Cup returns on Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass) as reigning MLS Cup champions LAFC prepare to host Tigres UANL, winners of the 2023 Campeón de Campeones of LIGA MX.

This is the first time LAFC will compete in the competition, as they look to capture their first trophy of 2023 and the club's first-ever intercontinental title since debutingduring the 2018 MLS season. Forward Dénis Bouanga has not shied away from big moments during LAFC's runs to the 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Final and the quarterfinals of Leagues Cup 2023, scoring 13 goals in addition to six assists across 11 appearances in both competitions.

Tigres is the first club to compete in Campeones Cup for a second time and will hope to become the first club in the competition's history to win the title twice. Tigres were bounced out of CCL in the semifinals and made a run to the quarterfinals of Leagues Cup 2023, so the LIGA MX club will be just as hungry to win this match as it is the last intercontinental title to claim in 2023.

Will Tigres reclaim their crown, or will LAFC become the newest club to lift the Campeones Cup? It all comes to light at BMO Stadium on Wednesday evening.

Inter Miami Looking for Second Title of 2023 in U.S. Open Cup

Only 14 times in MLS history has a club won multiple honors in a single season and Inter Miami CF has the opportunity to do so on Wednesday evening when they face Houston Dynamo FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. Despite a remarkable turnaround with many new faces, including Lionel Messi, Miami will have a difficult matchup against a well-organized Houston side led by first-year head coach Ben Olsen.

Of the teams to win multiple honors in the same year, only four of those were by clubs that have joined the league since 2000 - Seattle Sounders FC (2014), Toronto FC (2017), Atlanta United (2019), and LAFC (2022). Miami can join that elite group, and in doing so, they can also boast the honor of winning the inaugural Leagues Cup alongside a prestigious domestic trophy in the U.S. Open Cup.

The final will be played at DRV PNK Stadium, where Miami is an outstanding 6-0-1 in all competitions since Leagues Cup in late July. Meanwhile, Houston has won five Open Cup matches in 2023, with two of those on the road in the third round and quarterfinals. To bring home their first trophy since the U.S. Open Cup in 2018, the Dynamo will rely on their dynamic midfielders Héctor Herrera and Adalberto 'Coco' Carrasquilla.

History is on the horizon Wednesday night as the stars in Miami aim to go two-for-two in finals against a hungry Houston squad.

Audi 2023 MLS Playoffs at a Glance - Who's In, Who's Out?

The race to the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs continues to gain momentum as teams vie for positioning ahead of MLS Decision Day 2023. Every match counts as the stage is set for an expanded playoff that will feature 18 teams, Wild Card matches, and a Round One Best-of-3 series that includes a home-away-home format.

Six teams in the Eastern Conference have already clinched a postseason berth, leaving three spots up for grabs in the postseason hunt. FC Cincinnati, who was the first in the league to secure their place in postseason play nearly two months ahead of Decision Day, could clinch the Supporters' Shield based on scenarios to be finalized after a pair of MLS matches on Wednesday. Atlanta United, the Columbus Crew, Orlando City SC, the New England Revolution, and the Philadelphia Union have also secured their place in the upcoming MLS postseason.

In the push to the playoffs in the Western Conference, eight of the nine playoff spots are for the taking heading into Matchday 35 this weekend. St. Louis CITY SC has had a breakout debut season and after clinching the lone postseason spot thus far in the West, they have their eyes set on capturing the No. 1 seed and securing home-field advantage at CITYPARK.

MLS NEXT Pro to Debut New "Pick-Your-Opponent" Playoff Format This Week

The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro regular season ended Sunday with a drama-filled Decision Day, resulting in the final seeding for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs and setting the stage for the new pick-your-opponent selection process to determine the matchups for the opening round (Conference Quarterfinals).

The No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences - Crown Legacy FC and Colorado Rapids 2, respectively - will receive a first-round bye and automatically advance to the Conference Semifinals. The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each conference will choose their opponent from the No. 4-7 seeds and host that team in the Conference Quarterfinals. Following the second and third-seed selections, the remaining two teams in each conference will be slated to face each other, with the higher seed hosting. The matchups and schedule for the Quarterfinals is expected to be announced Tuesday afternoon.

The playoffs will consist of three rounds followed by MLS NEXT Pro Cup, taking place over four consecutive weeks beginning the weekend of September 29. All playoff matches and MLS NEXT Pro Cup will be broadcast live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app. Complete details are available at mlsnextpro.com.

MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot Ends in Historic Three-Way Tie

With 19 goals apiece, Colorado Rapids 2's Rémi Cabral, Orlando City B's Jack Lynn, and NYCFC II's MD Myers won the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot following a thrilling Decision Day on Sunday that saw Cabral record a hat trick in the second half of his match to pull even with Lynn and Myers.

Lynn and Myers entered the final day of the regular season tied for the lead with18 goals in the race for the scoring title, followed by Cabral and Atlanta United 2's Nick Firmino with 16 goals each. With all Eastern Conference matches kicking off at 2:00 p.m. ET, Lynn and Myers each scored a goal and seemed to pull away with their share of the Golden Boot before the Western Conference matches began at 5:00 p.m. ET.

However, Cabral would not be denied, scoring three times in a 22-minute span in the second half of Colorado's 4-2 win over MNUFC2 to finish the season with 19 goals and capture a share of the Golden Boot.

Further information on the Golden Boot winners is available on mlsnextpro.com.


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