Inter Miami CF v. LA Galaxy – Preview

A game meant to take place last season is finally here.

Inter Miami CF is set to take on LA Galaxy at 3 pm here in Fort Lauderdale. DRV PNK Stadium will host about 8,000 fans in the stands today as the two clubs face off on MLS Opening Weekend. Beckham’s old club, versus the one he owns, the storylines write themselves.

As for what it means for both sides, it’s ideally everything. Both clubs went through highly underwhelming 2020 season’s and kicking off 2021 with three points could mean a ton. For Miami, making DRV PNK Stadium a “fortress” is undoubtedly a priority. And for LA, improving on last season’s sub-par away game record (2-2-5) is theirs.

How Miami Will Lineup

The expectations of Phil Neville in this first game, and his entire first season, are massive. Before landing the Inter Miami job, his coaching resume was well short of what his predecessor, Diego Alonso’s, was. With that said, it doesn’t mean Neville isn’t the man for the job. He knows what he wants to do in terms of his formation and tactics and will try to get the most out of his players.

We’ll likely see a 4-3-3 formation in today’s match, with Pizarro, Matuidi, and Gregore handling the midfield roles. As confirmed by Jorge Mas, John McCarthy will start in between the sticks, playing in front of a backline that’ll likely consist of Joevin Jones, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Nico Figal, and Kelvin Leerdam.

And up top, expect a front three of Robbie Robinson, Gonzalo Higuain, and Lewis Morgan.

Neville spoke highly of LA Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez before today’s, catch and I’m sure the emphasis on both center-backs, LGP and Figal, will be to limit his chances and be disciplined in and around the box when he’s on the ball.

The midfield three is looking solid. Expect Gregore to be that protector of the backline who looks to connect play from back to front, and Matuidi to play just ahead of him as a box-to-box midfielder. The Gregore signing is massive, considering Miami went without a true center-defensive-mid all of last season. Gregore will get stuck in, make tackles, close down balls early, and relieve Matuidi of a lot of pressure.

Pizarro’s role will be to play as a number 1o. Neville wants his best players on the ball as they’ll look to dominate possession and control the tempo of the game. Pizarro will have to look to provide the front three, especially Higuain, a ton of service in order to create chances and tire out this Galaxy defense.

As for Lewis Morgan, his role will be different from what it was last season under Alonso. Our 2020 MVP won’t just be asked to run down the wing and whip in crosses. Morgan will whip in crosses, sure, but look for him to be taking on defenders more one on one, centrally. Neville wants Morgan on the ball just as much as he wants Pizarro on the ball; they’re the playmakers of this roster. Morgan is in for a better season than his MVP one last year, so lookout.

And then there’s the question of Robbie Robinson. The number one SuperDraft pick in 2020 had a rough season, especially as our striker. With Higuain coming in and Pellegrini off to Fort Lauderdale CF, Neville has looked to convert Robbie into a winger. His time at Clemson saw him playing all over one of the best front three’s NCAA soccer has ever seen. If Neville has coached him well enough, he could be very serviceable for Miami in a wing role.

Game Prediction

LA Galaxy has lost a lot of quality from last year to this. Miami should control the midfield battle and possession, and the chances should come off of that. If the Herons can hold down Chicharito and be efficient in their own final third, Miami could come out with a multiple-goal win.

I’m going with a 3-1 Inter Miami win.

Projecting Inter Miami’s Defensive Plans

After an underwhelming first season in Major League Soccer, Inter Miami CF has had one of the most significant roster turnovers in the league from last year. Starting up top with the front office and head coach, all the way to scouting directors and players, Miami has made copious changes heading into their second year. The addition of Chris Henderson as Sporting Director and Phil Neville as Head Coach (or Gaffer, as I like to say) has already seemed to make MAJOR impacts on this roster as their influence on signings has been very, very evident.

Much of Inter Miami’s problems last year stemmed from inconsistencies in the defense. If Leandro Gonzalez Pirez never signed for the South Florida club, it’s hard to imagine just how much worse their inaugural season could have been. Roman Torres would’ve likely never been traded. The club would’ve probably relied on him, Nico Figal, and Ben Sweat, A.J. DeLaGarza, Andres Reyes, Alvas Powell, or Christian Makoun as options in Diego Alonso’s three-at-the-back formations. Things got ugly for Inter Miami defensively early on in the summer of 2020. It carried on through to the playoff match in Nashville that resulted in a 3-0 defeat due to a lack of identity, focus, and defensive help.

The additions of Ryan Shawcross, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam, Kieran Gibbs, Patrick Seagrist, Aime Mabika (I think), and Ian Fray were all made by the new men in charge to help create a better defensive identity in Phil Neville’s projected 4-3-3 formation this season. Here’s how:

Wing-Back Additions

One of the weakest points all of last year was our lack of depth and starting quality and the wing-back position. On the left, it was a mix of Ben Sweat and Mikey Ambrose. On the right, we had one game of Alvas Powell in Los Angeles, and it went so poorly that we didn’t see him until the last couple of games of the season. Nealis and Figal were the replacements there.

Sweat and Ambrose have moved on to Austin FC and Atlanta United, respectively. Both guys delivered some excellent moments on the offensive side, including this beauty from Mikey to seal our spot in the playoffs:

Sadly our two left-backs pretty much had more of a positive impact on offense than they did on defense, which led to trouble. As for the right side, Dylan Nealis, in his second year, is still unproven despite a decent rookie season, and Figal should be seen as center-back where statistically, he’s been more effective.

Needless to say, changes were needed. Additions were to be had. Chris Henderson and the Miami Front Office delivered.

It started with a trade for Patrick Seagrist late in 2020 from the New York Red Bulls. The tenth pick of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft only made three appearances for the Red Bulls and is unproven in the league thus far. In a piece for Five Reasons when the deal happened, I discussed how Seagrist would fit into the side but ultimately stated he likely wouldn’t be a full-time starter. He needs more time. That left only Brek Shea as a potential starter at the left-back position until Chris Henderson called a familiar face.

Joevin Jones signed as an MLS Free Agent at the beginning of the month, and it all seemed to be worked out on the left side. The two-time MLS Cup Champion would walk into the starting XI. At 29 years old, coming off a good year with Seattle, Jones is ready to play and should provide some comfort for fans on the defense’s left side. At least until July.

Rumors of Kieran Gibbs joining Inter Miami had been around for quite some time. For the most part, it seemed unlikely after the Jones signing, and even before then too. Gibbs is currently West Bromwich Albion’s highest-paid player and rarely sees the pitch. Getting Gibbs to come to South Florida would have always entailed waiting until his contract ends at the end of June. There’d be no reason for the player to accept a buyout unless the price was very lucrative, and I doubt either West Brom or Inter Miami would have coughed up any money to do so. If you wanted Gibbs, you’d have to be patient. That was always going to be the case, and it is the case now.

The former Arsenal man was announced officially as a future Inter Miami CF player yesterday on a pre-contract agreement. Gibbs is to arrive on July 1st of this year, and depending on his fitness levels, and how Neville sees the team then, he’ll likely walk right into the starting lineup as a left-back.

So what does that do for Jones then? Is he to lose his position in the team? Not really.

Jones has been capable of playing as a winger or wide midfielder in his time with Seattle and the Trinidad & Tobago National Team. Brek Shea, for example, was used as a presence off the bench in wide areas, and when Gibbs arrives, I see Jones as the same kind of threat. Whether it be starting up top or coming off the bench, Jones will be utilized in this team even if Gibbs is to go in and take the starting role at left-back. At the very least, Jones is Gibbs’ immediate replacement if anything is to happen.

On the same day Gibbs was announced, the club also announced Kelvin Leerdam’s arrival.

Leerdam, the former Sounders right-back (it’s all Henderson), was traded to Inter Miami for just $75k in GAM that is spread over the next two seasons. Like Jones, Leerdam is coming off a pretty good year in Seattle and leaves the club having won an MLS title.

He immediately jumps over Nealis as the number one right back on the roster, which does a lot more than solidify the right side. The move for Leerdam now allows Phil Neville to have a starter he can be comfortable with on the right side without having to worry about playing one of his better center backs out of position. With Leerdam as the starter and Nealis as the backup, it’d probably take quite the chain of events for fans to see Figal playing as a right-back this year.

Jones and Gibbs to cover the left side, Leerdam, Nealis to protect the right.  Seagrist and possibly Shea could step in if needed.

The Ideal Center Back Pairing

Very simply put, the additions of starting-caliber wing-backs on both sides shows that Figal is CB option number two, behind LGP. There was talk before the Leerdam signing (from myself included) that Figal was a possible option as a right-back, where he played some last year under Alonso. As mentioned, Nealis is still unproven as a starter. Plus, the Shawcross signing gave additional depth in the middle.

I apologize for the Stoke City fans reading these harsh words about your club legend Ryan Shawcross. Still, when you consider all factors, there’s no way Ryan is beating out Figal or LGP for a starting spot to begin the season. He is the number three option right now, and the front office made the signing to have a third quality center back who can start when needed.

Let’s be honest here, LGP and Figal WILL both have a yellow card accumulation suspension this year; you can count on that.

Let’s also be honest about Shawcross.

He has only played in 247 minutes of first-team football dating back to March of last year. Then he came out in an interview recently stating he was “headed for retirement” until he got a call from South Florida. None of that, including his extended injury history in the last 17 months, shows the signs of a guy who will be coming late to a training camp/pre-season (due to the wait on an International Transfer Certificate [ITC] and P-1 Visa) and be ready to start on opening day.

shawcross injury

The Shawcross issues and the Leerdam signing lead to an inevitable Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Nico Figal center-back pairing to start the season. In the primes of their careers, both guys should be ready to lead this team from the back as they were the best pairing of last year. Not to say it’s the perfect pairing or best pairing in MLS, but with a little bit of added chemistry, help from the midfield, and security possibly by the wing-backs, improvement from this duo should be expected in 2021. Plus, Neville should be very tactically strict, and the club won’t see formation changes from week to week.

In order, my CB depth chart looks like this: LGP, Figal, Shawcross, Makoun, and Mabika (if he’s to sign for the first team). Ian Fray doesn’t make the list after his unfortunate ACL injury at the beginning of preseason.

We wish you the best, Ian.

Projected Opening Day Defensive Lineup

In goal, Miami will field John McCarthy, of course. On the left, Gibbs could start, but that’s in July. Jones will be there until then. Both Figal and LGP will be in the middle as the center-back pairing we should look forward to this year. Shawcross as the immediate backup. And Leerdam will take over the right side with Nealis right behind him on the depth chart.

Compared to last season in which Miami fielded a backline of Robles, Sweat, Figal, Torres, and Powell on opening day in LA, I’d say that this is quite the upgrade.

Shawcross and Gregore Sign for Inter Miami

Both Ryan Shawcross and Gregore de Magalhães da Silva are on their way to South Florida ahead of the 2021 MLS Season. Inter Miami CF announced both signings this week (on Feb. 20 and Feb 24, respectively), and the roster under Phil Neville is beginning to take shape.

It has not been reported how long Ryan Shawcross has been signed for, but for Gregore, it’s a 4-year deal with an option in the fifth.

When it comes to money, it seems as though Shawcross’s deal falls under the normal salary budget. Gregore’s contract will join Blaise Matuidi’s and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s under the club’s Targeted Allocation Money. Both Shawcross and Gregore will also take up international roster slots.

Is Shawcross the Starter?

It would be tough to argue that a long-time Premier League veteran, long-time Stoke City captain at just 33-years old, could NOT be the starter, but I’m here to do just that.

However, this argument relies on the Phill Neville variable and how he will use players after seeing them for 6 weeks in training camp. He specifically referred to Jorge Figal as a right-back in his introductory press conference a couple of weeks back, and if that does end up being the case, this argument is fully invalid.

If Figal is to be seen as a center-back, though, there’s no reason for Shawcross to be used as anything but cover and depth behind an LGP/Figal center-back partnership.

It’s not to say that I don’t believe Ryan Shawcross is an excellent defender who possesses highly valuable leadership qualities that are hard to come by, but there are other things at play here.

Shawcross has only played 247 minutes of first-team football for Stoke, dating back to March of 2020, and a large part of it has to do with injury.

shawcross injury

Given this injury history and lack of minutes in professional games, saying that 6 weeks of preseason may not be enough is an understatement.

There is absolutely no reason for him to be forced on as the starter especially given his age and unfamiliarity with the league. There is also no pressure for him to perform like a starter right away because this is not what would be considered a “big-money signing.” Remember, not a DP, not using TAM or GAM on him, no special MLS rules. Just a simple signing under the normal salary budget. Oh, and it was a free transfer.

Down the line, Shawcross’s value will come from subbing on late in games to hold the lead, veteran presence, his starts for when LGP and Figal are either injured or suspended, etc.

If he is to come from England and get out of the MLS pre-season in TIP-TOP shape, then sure, maybe he’s the starter. But I don’t see him being fully fit for 90 minutes in an MLS match by the middle of April. I also look forward to being proven wrong.

Neville’s Midfield with Gregore

Until Matuidi came in, Inter Miami’s midfield being run by Victor Ulloa and Wil Trapp was a borderline disaster. The backline seemed to have had no protection, and the pair could not help transition the ball from the defense to their attackers up top. Bringing in Matuidi helped a ton, but unfortunately, Trapp nor Ulloa was good enough or consistent enough to solidify themselves as Blaise’s partner.

With the expectation that Phil Neville will try to run his favored 4-3-3 formation or a variation of it, Matuidi is definitely going to need help in the middle of the pitch. Signing Gregore for a reported $4 million and using TAM on him is worth it.

Gregore is an all-around defensive midfielder who excels at winning the ball in the middle of the pitch. He will provide the backline a ton of protection with his ball-winning skills and ability to read the game well. His tackling is outstanding; No nonsense, get stuck in style, and puts 100% behind winning the ball all the time.

He also will relieve Matuidi of a ton of defensive duties. He’s so good at covering the back that Matuidi will now be able to drive forward (comfortably, with protection) as a playmaker alongside Pizarro out of the midfield.

Gregore short passing ability is also good enough that he will be able to provide service of the ball from the backline to the attackers. He’s not shy to get forward when he needs to, and he possesses the quality to score a banger every once in a while.

I see Gregore starting as many games as he is possibly fit for, and right away. You needed a midfield pairing for Matuidi before, and now even more so in a Neville style 4-3-3. Way to get your man, Chris Henderson.

Overall

Both signings were very, very good for Inter Miami. Shawcross on a relatively small deal for what he could provide and one of, if not the best midfielders in Brazil over on a deal that doesn’t cost you a DP slot but will turn out to produce like one.

Shawcross and Gregore have bolstered the squad tremendously, but I don’t think that the Front Office is quite done making moves. Expect more before pre-season.

Phil Neville to be Announced Inter Miami CF Manager

After officially stepping down as head coach of the England Women’s National Team Monday morning, Phil Neville is set to become the Inter Miami CF manager. The Athletic has reported that the club is expected to make an official announcement within the next 24 hours (as of 7am Monday).

Reports have been buzzing around for a while that this move was set to take place. Even before the club announced that they had “mutually parted ways” with former club manager Diego Alonso, it was rumored that David Beckham had been in talks with his former teammate about becoming the manager at his MLS side.

After retiring as a player in 2013, Neville started a managerial career and took numerous jobs as assistant manager before becoming the Lionesses first team manager in 2018. Actually, in 2012 Neville was given an essential assistant role for the England U21’s before officially retiring from play. David Moyes at Manchester United in 2014 gave him a first-team coach role before Neville went on to purchase Salford City and help manage there as part owner. From 2015-2016, Neville took a job as an assistant at the Spanish club Valencia CF before landing his most recent job.

In January of 2018, the England Women’s National Team announced that Phil Neville would finally become a head manager leading into the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Neville’s goal was to take the Lionesses past what they had done in their previous World Cup run and finally make a final. After falling short of that goal in 2019, Neville and the National Team never found a good run of form, and he’s leaving the side on quite a sour note. There were seven defeats in their last eleven games, and Neville himself admitted he was personally responsible and would step down in July of 2021 when his contract ran up. But when David Beckham is on the other line, it seems like you step down even sooner.

Beckham and Neville were teammates at Manchester United until 2003 when Beckham ended up leaving for Real Madrid. There is some familiarity between the two sides, and with Beckham reported to take a more “hands-on role” at the club, a familiar face heading your club’s roster is likely the first thing you look towards.

Many criticisms that supporters and even non-supporters will have about bringing in Neville is that he is not decorated or seasoned enough in the coaching side of football just yet. Neville has no head experience coaching a club’s men’s side after only being a head manager for a national team and a women’s side. Although still VERY high level, there are drastic differences in both games. His time as an assistant at Valencia, Man United, and Salford are the only things on his resume to give him coaching experience in this aspect. However, like Diego Alonso, Phil Neville has no experience with MLS through his playing AND coaching career up to this point. That proved to be an issue as Alonso seemed never to have found a good comfort level here in the states with Inter Miami.

It has been said that an announcement from Inter Miami CF is to come in hours. Phil Neville will be taking over as the club manager, who also has other front-office vacancies to fill.

 

Inter Miami CF Acquire Patrick Seagrist

Inter Miami CF have traded for former New York Red Bulls left-back Patrick Seagrist.

Seagrist, a 22-year-old left-footed defender, makes his way to South Florida through trade, as Inter Miami has agreed to send a 3rd round 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick to New York. Depending on performance, Miami could also send over $50,000 in General Allocation Money.

He was drafted 1oth overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft by the Red Bulls, which now means Inter Miami roster three top-ten picks from last year’s draft (Robbie Robinson 1st overall, Dylan Nealis 3rd overall).

As a rookie, Seagrist made just three appearances for the Red Bulls. Two of those came in the season’s first two matches in March, but after quarantine and before the MLS is Back Tournament, he lost the starting role and didn’t see the field again until August. With that said, there isn’t much Seagrist footage to look at in MLS, but his time at Marquette University shows more than enough to prove why he was a highly-touted prospect.

Seagrist was named to the All-BIG EAST First teams in both 2018 and 2019. In his senior year, 2019, Seagrist led the BIG EAST in assists as a left-back and was only one of two players for the Golden Eagles to start in every game. Needless to say, he was a very influential player on the collegiate level, just like his new teammate and defender Dylan Nealis was for Georgetown.

After Inter Miami traded away Ben Sweat to Austin FC for $100k in GAM, it was known the club would be in the market for a left-back. Not only did Miami lose Ben Sweat, but it was recently announced that Mikey Ambrose too would be leaving the club as he signed a contract with Atlanta United. Both Sweat and Ambrose, other than maybe Shea, were the only two players to play left-back in the 2020 season.

The Fit

Seagrist is a true, left-footed left-back who shows brilliant soccer IQ at a young age. His college tape shows a player who loves to get forward and provide service all across the pitch. A lot of what he does going forward relies on his left foot; whether it’d be an over the top pass or cross, it was mostly on the left foot from the left side, and this would be a perfect parallel to Lewis Morgan’s services on the right. He showed innate ability to find runs from attackers in any pocket of space or across the field, thus leading to why he was the top assist man in his conference.

His soccer IQ also helps his side when going forward, and this doesn’t solely pertain to what he does on the ball. At Marquette, Seagrist was in a system where it was in the instruction that he make overlapping runs and dart forward to help out on the wings. Inter Miami saw a lot of this in Ben Sweat’s better performances on the season, and Seagrist can mimic that.

As a defender, Seagrist has to become a little more polished. He stands at 6ft tall but is quite skinny, weighing in at about 170lbs (data from Marquette’s website). The physicality in MLS could stand to be a problem for Seagrist. His ability to read the game and position himself well does provide an advantage when it comes to interceptions and closing down space. The main worry here is in 1 on 1 scenarios if he’s beaten off the ball. Although Seagrist does have a bit of pace for running up and down the pitch, getting beaten by MLS veterans and or other physical, rapid wingers is a lot to try and recover from.

One positive in his defending, however, is his ability to win and redirect headers. Standing 6ft tall, Seagrist can use his height and decent jumping ability to his advantage by winning headers from long balls or clearances from the opposition. He did so on the collegiate level.

At 22, there’s no need to rush to have him as a starter. His situation is a lot like Dylan Nealis’, except Nealis NEEDED to play after Powell proved he wasn’t the guy. Both Nealis and Seagrist as defenders are about on the same level, but the newly acquired left-back has much more upside in attacking play.

Trade Grade: B+

Seagrist, depending on who Inter Miami can bring in, likely won’t be a full-time starter, but look for him to make some appearances in the side, especially if Alonso uses wing-backs from time to time this year. That role probably suits him best.

But a low risk, high upside trade for the Herons is a good way to start their offseason heading into 2021. After the departure of their only two left-backs, to bring in a younger one whos a true left-footed player with a ton of potential is a quality transaction.

English Premier League: 5 Craziest Matches So Far In 2020/21 Season

At the time of writing, we are just approaching the quarter-way mark of the 38-game English Premier League season. And, we say this without exaggeration, it has already packed more drama and weirdness into the first nine rounds as any season in the past. From huge upsets to goals being awarded after the full-time whistle was blown, this campaign has been unlike any other. 

 Above all, though, there have been some bizarre results and performances over the autumn period, and we are going to look back at five of those below: 

Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool

The biggest shock in English football history? Certainly, we can’t think of many upsets to match Aston Villa’s demolition of the champions (perhaps Southampton beating Manchester United 6-3 in during the 1996/97 season). Nevertheless, this was Villa’s day, with Ollie Watkins leading the charge with a hat-trick against the Reds. Liverpool conceded just 33 goals across the entire season in 2019/20, so to let in over a fifth of that tally in a single game was shocking, to say the least. All credit should go to Villa, though, who looked masterful when gaining their greatest result in many a year. 

Man City 2-5 Leicester

Man City still remain the betting favourites with 888 to win the Premier League this season. In truth, though, they haven’t looked like potential champions in most games, most notably when receiving a hiding from Leicester City. The main man was the evergreen Jamie Vardy, whose pace and guile tortured the City defence throughout the 90 minutes. Pep Guardiola, normally the coolest man on the sidelines, looked helpless. 

Manchester United 1-6 Tottenham

This was horrific if you were watching as a Manchester United fan. Normally when two big clubs clash, the games can be tentative, certainly in the beginning. Both teams flew out of the traps here though, with United going ahead after two minutes. That was as good as it got for United, though, as Tottenham had the lead five minutes later. United fans might point to Anthony Martial’s red card as an excuse, but that’s almost a moot point. Tottenham battered United before and after the sending off, and we could have been looking at double figures by the end. A great day for former United boss, Jose Mourinho; one to forget for current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

Leicester 0-3 West Ham 

The week before Leicester City were giving Pep Guardiola nightmares, the team was on the receiving end of their own comprehensive defeat at the hands of West Ham. The Hammers were expected to flop this season, but manager David Moyes has got a tune out of a team that looks weak on paper. They were perfect here in thwarting much-fancied Leicester City. Moyes had been tipped as the first manager likely to be sacked, given West Ham’s tough fixture list. But the Scot has guided his team astutely, and earned the respect of fans in the process. 

Aston Villa 3-4 Southampton 

If any club is emblematic of the crazy Premier League season, it is Aston Villa. They have put Liverpool, Leicester and Arsenal to the sword, but lost games 3-0 at home to Leeds and this one at the hands of Southampton. In truth, the 4-3 scoreline flatters Villa a bit because they were never really in the match. Saints were 4-0 up after an hour, and they took their foot off the gas after that. After the game, Southampton spent a brief period at the top of the Premier League. The club duly released “Stop the Count” t-shirts in a cheeky imitation of a certain US President’s call to stop votes being tallied in the election.  

Inter Miami Fall 3-0 to Nashville in First Ever Playoff Match

In the battle of the expansion sides Friday night, Nashville SC’s dominant performance over Inter Miami CF was more than enough to see their season past the play-in round of the MLS Playoffs. By a scoreline of 3-0, Nashville showed out on both sides of the ball and sent Inter Miami packing with questions about the future.

In what was a lackluster performance, to say the least, Inter Miami found themselves down by two goals by the 23rd minute. A Randall Leal stunner and a penalty from the star man Hany Mukhtar put the Herons down early.

Tactically, Diego Alonso had this game all wrong from the start. The first 25 minutes of this match were an absolute disaster. The five at the back formation provided Nashville the chance to control the game and possession, then score twice. There was no sense of urgency from Inter Miami off of kickoff and no cohesion within the team.

Defensively, Miami struggled to clear the ball off the pitch. And what I mean by that is, Alvas Powell instinctively cleared the ball to the middle of the field what felt like every chance he had, and it ruined Miami’s chances early on. Other defenders were the same way, but Powell just did this very noticeably, considering it led to the first goal.

When on the ball, the passing was never crisp, rarely positive, and provided nothing. The movement off the ball from the players when in possession was also shambolic, and this team, after a full season together, still had not seemed to find the chemistry they were meant to.

Why? Well, in A.J. DeLaGarza’s words,

“Communication has to be better. Language barriers have to be better. Too many guys don’t speak Spanish, too many don’t speak English, and that leads to not communicating on the field.”

Franco Panizo of SBI Soccer said on his Twitter page that he noticed earlier on in the year at the MLS is Back Tournmanent that he caught Victor Ulloa translating words back to Diego Alonso.

Now, DeLaGarza is quoted as saying that the language barrier among players and staff has been a problem not just for this game but all year long.

How is a team meant to play cohesively when things cant be communicated among the players? How are they meant to succeed if the manager’s tactics may not come across clearly? Maybe I’m overblowing this. Maybe this is a minor issue that hadn’t had a drastic effect this season. If it’s not? Then man, was this club doomed from the start or what.

Moving on past those first 25 minutes, even being down 2-0, things were looking a little better. Diego Alonso was forced to make an early tactical change. Matias Pellegrini was subbed on for Dylan Nealis in the 33rd minute, and Alonso switched the formation to a back four. It might have just been a simple fact that they played two-nil down, but this change seemed to make this game a little bit more bearable to watch.

The possession numbers ended up being an even 50-50 by the 54th minute. That says a lot considering at the 25th-minute mark, the possession numbers were 73-27 in favor of Nashville. The game was changed greatly once Alonso decided to ditch his original tactics, but my word, there are still so many things to question from the rest of this game.

Lewis Morgan has started every single game for Inter Miami on the right-wing. Matias Pellegrini was used mostly on the left-wing this season, although he had spent some time as a number 10. When Pellegrini was subbed on, he and Morgan were on opposite wings most of the match for some very odd reason. Why? If there was anything this team had been consistent with this season, it was receiving service from their right-winger, Lewis Morgan. For them to have been on opposite sides the majority of the match after the substitution is truly mind-boggling and likely had an effect on this team going forward.

Then you look at the third goal conceded. Fair play to Dax McCarty, who took the space he was given and found the back of the net, but no one closed him down. Matuidi barely tried to catch him after being beaten while we lightly jogged in the midfield, and not one defender thought to close down. They let Dax legitimately run from the half-way line to the top of the box and still let him get a shot off. Woeful is the best word I could use to describe how poor the defending was on this play.

Outside of the three goals conceded, that was about it. At times, the game was dead, and Miami struggled even in possession to get any clear chances inside the box. Even with the formation change, it was still the same Miami side we had seen all year that struggled to create and convert chances. To concede three goals to a team that had only done so four times all year and is known for their defense is awful. Both defensively and offensively, Miami struggled and put out a poor showing.

It’s a disappointing but deserved result. Yes, Higuain and LGP were out with COVID. But that doesn’t change the fact that you had all week to set this match up tactically, and you came out with possibly the worst 25 minutes of the season! More has to be done; more should’ve been done earlier, considering the team’s expectations. Making the playoffs in your inaugural year is a great feat, but to scrape by and barely make it then put on a poor showing in a do-or-die game, isn’t good enough.

This match and the entire season should be enough to give management and the players a reality check, and hopefully, they can improve in 2021. The city and the fans deserve it.

It might’ve been disappointing; it might’ve really sucked to lose a lot of games this year. But professional soccer is back in South Florida, and that’s a win in my book.

 

 

Inter Miami to Make MLS Playoff Debut

Through a year of tremendous adversity in their inaugural season, Inter Miami was able to sneak into the MLS Playoffs by way of the 10th position in the Eastern Conference standings. The club’s first-ever playoff game takes place tonight at Nissan Stadium as they take on fellow MLS expansion side Nashville SC.

But of course, there’s not an Inter Miami match that hadn’t had trouble going into it, and this game is no different.

Reviewing the First Two Ties

Before we get into that, Inter Miami and Nashville SC faced off twice in the regular season. Although MANY things have changed since those matchups, it’s still important to note the scorelines and how things went.

The first match between the two sides took place on August 30th in the same place the game will be tonight. Nashville SC has identified themselves as a solid defensive side, and this game proved to be one of their good defensive performances. Despite Miami creating 11 chances in the match, they ended the 90 minutes scoreless and saw defeat after a poorly cleared cross found Anibal Godoy open at the top of the box. Godoy was able to beat Luis Robles from long range, and that goal stood as the only one in the entire match. With Miami unable to convert their chances in the final third, Nashville saw out the win and kept all three points at home.

Fast forward to September 6th, where they met again but in Fort Lauderdale this time. Both teams took a point to their season totals as this game ended in a nil-nil draw. Nashville created a total of 13 chances that resulted in nine shots but only four on target. The offensive approach from Nashville in this match was the complete opposite from the first time, where they only had five shots, with two on target. I guess you could say less is more. However, Miami did fire all on fronts but again failed to convert any of their chances.

Also noteworthy that Gonzalo Higuain was not a part of either match as his signing was not completed this early on in the year. Blaise Matuidi, though, was a part of the second match between the two teams, and it’s safe to say he’ll be part of the one tonight as well.

Player News and Expectations for Tonight’s Match

So what should tonight’s matchup bring? Due to reports yesterday, the general public was informed that three Inter Miami players had not traveled due to positive COVID-19 tests. Both Higuain brothers, Gonzalo and Federico, along with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, were the ones that have not made the trip to Nashville.

In other player news, it was confirmed by Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso that Rodolfo Pizarro, Brek Shea, and Nico Figal are all available tonight despite each player’s own complications.

Pizarro had recently left South Florida for two international friendlies with the Mexican National Team. His availability was not likely until MLS released a protocol in which they would charter flights for MLS players abroad to bypass the 10-day quarantine process. Along with Victor Wanyama for Montreal, he and Pizarro were two key players MLS wanted back for their postseason.

Brek Shea was on the “not medically cleared to play” list for quite some time. The thought is that when a player is on that list, they have tested positive for COVID-19, but the club or the league confirmed nothing. Shea is back, however, and Alonso now has a fan favorite at his disposal.

Nico Figal went down with an injury in Inter Miami’s game against FC Dallas on October 28th. The club confirmed that the defender was dealing with a muscle injury in his leg. Fortunately for Inter Miami, he is available tonight. He will be needed, too, as LGP is out with COVID, and Andres Reyes is suspended for this game after picking up a red card in the season finale vs. FC Cincinnati.

With these returnees and players that are out, how should Miami line up tonight? That’s for Diego Alonso to decide, but me to speculate.

With the defensive options running extremely thin, Figal will have to start at the center back position. A late bloomer this season in the defense has been A.J. De LaGarza, who has seen time both at center back and at right-back. I think it’d be smart for Alonso to utilize A.J.’s versatility and play him at CB alongside Figal. The wing-backs have come down to the coach’s preference all season. On the left, Ben Sweat played most of the year as the starter but has been replaced in recent weeks by Mikey Ambrose, who scored an absolute worldie last time out. Alonso should feed the hot and leave Ambrose as the starter. With no Figal or A.J. to play on the right, Alonso will have to decide between the rookie, Dylan Nealis, or the MLS veteran, who he sat all year after a poor performance in the club’s inaugural game in LA, Alvas Powell. Powell got his chance against FC Cinincianntti and put in a very decent performance. Personal preference would be to go with Nealis, who has had more game experience this season, but Powell is a solid option.

The midfield will consist of both Blaise Matuidi and Wil Trapp, as that’s been the best duo the team has had in the latter half of the year. If Alonso sticks with his 4-2-3-1 formation, these will be the guys in front of the backline.

Up front is now where things get interesting. Lewis Morgan is the OBVIOUS choice to start, and really that goes without saying. The other three attacking positions might be up in the air. No Higuain means the team has to address the striker role and who plays around him. The last time Higuain did not play, Julian Carranza was the striker of choice for Alonso. However, we have seen Robbie Robinson start this year up top as well as Juan Agudelo. It’ll likely be Carranza since Alonso has also used Agudelo on the left-wing after Matias Pellegrini lost his starting spot.

Is Pizarro ready to play 90 minutes as a number 10? On international duty just three days ago, he played 89 minutes as a starter for the Mexican National team against Japan. This game was on Tuesday, and on Friday, Rodolfo may be asked to do it again. Quite the test of fitness for Inter Miami’s first-ever Designated Player.

Oh, and John McCarthy will be starting in goal as Robles is still healing from a fractured arm, and Drake Callender has not yet made his mark on an MLS stage.

My prediction for the starting XI tonight is as follows:

4-2-3-1

Carranza (ST)

Agudelo / Pizarro / Morgan (LM, CAM, RM)

Matuidi / Trapp (CDM, CDM)

Ambrose / Figal / AJD / Nealis (LB, CB, CB, RB)

McCarthy (GK)

Predictions

Both clubs are in their first-ever playoff match. Their first ever win-or-go-home games that could shape their future for the next couple of years. The stakes are massive for both sides and mean a ton for both franchises and fan bases.

With that said, when you factor in how Nashville and Miami have played against each other in the past, and how Miami lacks goal scoring in their side and Nashville is a VERY defensive team, this game will be close.

Don’t expect a goal-fest. Expect a very gritty, get stuck in the mud kind of game where both teams play not to lose until the opening goal actually comes. As the leading team in clean sheets recorded, Nashville will look to keep that up while Miami may try and play the same way but break on a counter.

With Lewis Morgan to worry about on the wing and Pizarro’s creative genius, I think they may counter early out of the half time break and make it 1-0 within the 50′ minute mark. Nashville will equalize quickly after. Then, in dramatic fashion, Miami will find themselves with a late winner to put them on the right side of a 2-1 scoreline, and they’ll be headed to Philadelphia.

The game is at 9 pm EST on ESPN2.

Multiple Positive COVID-19 Tests Ahead of Inter Miami Playoff Game

In breaking news Thursday night, it was reported that there had been multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the Inter Miami squad. This news comes about 24 hours before the club is scheduled to play their first-ever playoff game against fellow MLS Expansion Team, Nashville SC.

It is not certain at the moment who has tested positive, how many have, or when the results came in. According to reports from SB Nation’s Franco Panizo and Sun Sentinel’s Khobi Price, at least five total players have tested positive with the possibility of at least three being starters.

Miami is set to take on Nashville at Nissan Stadium at 9 pm EST tomorrow. Depending on when the club was notified of the positive tests and how it was handled at the training facility in Fort Lauderdale throughout the week will determine if the game can still be played.

After the Orlando Tournament, MLS had specific same-day travel rules for road teams in the regular season, and it’s thought that it’s the same for the post-season. This rule has probably done Inter Miami a favor here as they still have not arrived in Nashville for tomorrow’s match, and the club can prohibit the players who have tested positive from traveling.

With the thought that the positive tests came earlier in the week, it’s important to note that the last time the official Inter Miami social media accounts posted videos from training as early as three days ago, but none since then. The last training video’s identifiable players include Juan Agudelo, Matias Pellegrini, Julian Carranza, and Dylan Nealis. Other players are visible in the background but are not clearly shown.

Rodolfo Pizarro, Brek Shea, and Nico Figal were all said to be available yesterday morning.

As previously mentioned, it’s not clear about who has tested positive or how many. The adversity continues for Inter Miami as they now go into their first-ever playoff match with a weakened side when previously thought they would be at full strength.

The match is available for fans to watch nationally on ESPN2 tomorrow at 9 pm Eastern.

Champions League betting: English teams pose threat to Bayern

The Champions League proper is set to begin in October and online betting sites have already released the outright odds for this season’s tournament.

 

Bayern Munich lifted the trophy in Lisbon after beating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the final, and it is the Germans who start as co-favourites for the 2020-21 tournament.

 

Hansi Flick’s team are priced at 9/2 with most bookmakers to go back-to-back, and with Leroy Sane’s arrival strengthening their attacking options, they are likely to be just as difficult to beat in this campaign as they were during the last.

 

Manchester City, Sane’s former club, are also 9/2 even though they have never won the Champions League. Lyon knocked them out in a shock 3-1 result at the quarter-final stage, meaning that Pep Guardiola’s wait to win the European Cup at City goes on.

 

One English club that have had plenty of experience in lifting ‘Old Big Ears’ is Liverpool, who are 5/1 in places but 7/1 best price. The addition of Thiago Alcantara will be a huge boost, and confidence within the squad will be at an all-time high after they followed up their 2019 Champions League success with a maiden Premier League triumph this year.

 

Like Man City, Paris Saint-Germain are searching for their first Champions League and the Ligue 1 outfit are 9/1 with Paddy Power to finally go all the way. Having reached the final for the first time in 2020, many may be tempted by that price for them to go one better.

 

You can never keep Real Madrid away from Champions League finals for too long, so it is no surprise to see them at 9/1 with some betting sites, while they can be snapped up at a more generous 12/1 elsewhere. That price may change depending on what happens between now and the end of the transfer window. There have been plenty of departures from the Bernabeu, many of which will surely be replaced.

 

Barcelona, meanwhile, have already spent big on midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Juventus and the exciting Portuguese winger Trincao from Brago. But their biggest coup is being able to keep hold of Lionel Messi, who at one stage looked likely to be heading to Manchester City. The Catalan giants, five-time winners of the European Cup, are 16/1.

 

There are some 17/1 quotes available on Serie A champions Juventus, while Chelsea, who have bolstered their squad massively, are 22/1. Manchester United are also 22/1, but that may have something to do with their pedigree in the Champions League rather than their current squad.

 

It may be surprising to see Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, and Borussia Dortmund as big as 33/1 with some bookies, and an even bigger long shot is Atalanta at 45/1. The Italian side were highly impressive with their attacking football last season as they reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finished third in Serie A.

 

Sevilla have an incredible record in European competitions, having won the Europa League six times this century, but the Champions League may be a step too far from them and 70/1 is probably fair.