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Hype reaches fever pitch as Messi arrives in Cincinnati for Open Cup semifinals

FC Cincinnati will face Lionel Messi and Inter Miami Wednesday at TQL Stadium for an elimination match in the US Open Cup
FC Cincincinnati Inter Miami
Posted at 8:40 PM, Aug 22, 2023

CINCINNATI — The hype surrounding the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals at TQL Stadium has reached a high before FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami, featuring global superstar Lionel Messi, step onto the pitch Wednesday.

The single-elimination game is do-or-die for FC Cincinnati, the team with the best regular season record, against a team with who many would consider the best player in the world.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval raised an FCC flag over City Hall Tuesday, saying the team has captured the city's spirit.

"Out of 100 American clubs, only four remain," Pureval said.

Later the same afternoon, players from FCC's minor club FCC2 signed autographs for fans at the team store.

Center defender Kai Thomas said seeing Messi in Cincinnati was something he didn't think could ever happen.

"It's surreal, you know? It's like, you're little, you see Messi on TV and it's like, you'll never imagine something like that could ever happen," Thomas said. "Now, you get to come over here and see him in your local city."

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Fans like Stephen Hoffman, however, were not star-struck by the 36-year-old and said they were pumped to see FCC knock Inter Miami off their path to Open Cup victory.

"Messi who?" Hoffman said. "What's this guy's name? Yeah, I know he's good, but here's the deal: this is FCC. They've only got 18 points. We've got 51. ... We're going to win that game."

While the team could win Wednesday, businesses like Molly Malone's across the river in Covington definitely expect to win at the cash register. Manager Zach Green said he expects big business as an FCC Pub Partner.

"Absolute chaos honestly," Green said. "I'm hoping so, at least."

Green said regulars know they air the games, but this game could prove to be a different beast because of the high stakes of a loss and one man, Lionel Messi, being on the pitch.

"A lot of people can't go to the games like this one because of the Messi effect, the influx, the ticket prices, things like that, so people will be out wanting to watch the game," he said.

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