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Breaking Down Inter Miami’s Pre-Season Scrimmage vs Universitario

Inter Miami has hit the hard reset button.

After an off-season reboot that saw sixteen players leave and eleven (and counting) be brought in, the South Florida club was back in action as they took on Peruvian club Universitario.

Though the roster is not complete, nor are they regular season fit, Phil Neville’s men put on a show in Fort Lauderdale putting four goals past the “U’s” defense. 

The scoring got started in the 19th minute with an own goal by Universitario’s Nelson Cabanillas.

Miami continued to put on the pressure and added to their lead with a fantastic goal by Homegrown defender Ian Fray. Miami ran away with the match by the second half as they added two more goals from wingback Harvey Neville and defender Ethan Hardin.

With their first ‘tune-up’ match out of the way, let’s break down what Inter Miami could tactically look like when the season starts:

New Look Miami

Neville lined Miami up in a 5-2-3, a formation he often used in 2021. However, this iteration of the “back five” looked quite different.

It was less of a flat back five and more a 3-4-3. The wingbacks pushed high and wide and acted as an outlet when Miami wanted to hit Universitario on the counter:

Most of the offensive build-up came through the center backs. McVey specifically, was very active on Miami’s left-hand side. His passing was crisp, solid, and he had several line-breaking through balls that kept Miami’s attack flowing freely.

Both of the centrebacks that flanked Aime Mabika had the freedom to roam forward and help in attack – take Fray’s goal for example:

Moving on to the midfield, Jean Mota did not disappoint.

The 28-year-old midfielder showed why Inter Miami’s Sporting Director Chris Henderson values him so highly.

The central midfielder looked lively.

He wasn’t afraid to throw himself into tackles and showed that he had a good passing range. Once his fellow Brazilian Gregore makes a return to full fitness, the duo will make an extremely formidable midfield pairing.

Looking at the attacking front trio of Robbie Robinson, Gonzalo Higuain, and Ariel Lassiter, not much has tactically changed since last year.

Wingers are told to get in behind the defense and try to go direct as possible while Higuain drops deep (but not too deep) to add creativity in the midfield.

Neville did say in his post-match conference that they have been “working on several formations.” While the back three is something they used during the friendly, Miami will more than likely use a myriad of tactical setups throughout the season:

Some of the standout players in the match were: Jean Mota, Ian Fray, Christopher McVey, and Edison Azcona.

If this friendly is anything to go by, Inter Miami fans have plenty to get excited about as they head into the 2022 season.

Wha’s Next?

Inter Miami will continue their season preparation this Saturday, January 29th as they take on DC United in a closed-door scrimmage.

Inter Miami’s First Three Off-Season Moves

Co-authored By Alex Windley

 

In what’s set to be the one of, if not the biggest off-season’s in Inter Miami CF’s short history, the club has already kicked off with several big moves before the 2022 campaign. Trading a fan favorite, signing another Brazilain midfielder, and re-signing a depth piece are a few of the many moves to be made before the club’s 2022 home opener against Chicago Fire FC on February 26th at DRV PNK Stadium.

Here are the three moves, broken down:

Lewis Morgan Traded to RBNY

Last Thursday morning, the Athletic broke the news that Inter Miami CF will be trading Lewis Morgan to New York Red Bulls for $1,200,000 in allocation money. 

While a surprise to some, the move shows just how Inter Miami is going to have to deal with the upcoming sanctions handed to them by MLS following the result of the Matuidi Investigation earlier this year. 

The sanctions are/were as follows:

  • $2 million fine to club
  • $200k fine to managing owner Jorge Mas
  • $2.27 million reductions in allocation dollars in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. 

What’s noteworthy about this trade is the large sum of allocation dollars that Miami will be receiving as the result of the transaction. The $1.2 million in allocation money that Miami is getting in return does well to help cover the funds reduced by the league (sanctions listed above) for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

When the club announced the trade, it was made public that Miami would be receiving $700k in GAM in 2022 and $500k in GAM in 2023.  Not to mention, following Lewis Morgan’s MVP 2020 season, the club handed him a contract extension that included a pay raise. The salary increase was enough to warrant Lewis Morgan dollars from Miami’s Targeted Allocation Money. Getting that money off the books will bode well to reduce the harm of the sanctions and give the potential to bring in more quality signings.

It is projected that approximately $1.3 million for the 2022 season is being reduced. By receiving 700k in GAM and getting a TAM contract off the books, Miami has indeed freed themselves for more opportunities in terms of bringing in players. As for 2023, Miami has gotten ahead by starting to eat away at the upcoming sanctions that aren’t directly affecting them yet.

Sporting Director Chris Henderson was handed a tall task when he took the Miami job, and this decision about a fan favorite is undoubtedly just one of the many challenging moves he’ll have to make in the coming weeks. 

Lewis Morgan had not only played but started in every Inter Miami match in the club’s short two-year history. After five goals and five assists in the 2020 season and some lights-out play that helped Miami reach the playoffs that year, Morgan was named the club’s first-ever team MVP. In 2021, his production fell way short of expectations under Phil Neville, partly to do with a position switch for a large chunk of the year. Morgan was asked and delivered on playing as a right-wing-back in 2021 and an attacking player. The defensive task asked of him took away a lot of potentials for him to be able to produce on offense; however, the club may still have wanted more from Morgan in terms of production. 

Jean Mota Headed to South Florida

After signing Gregore in early 2021, Inter Miami adds another Brazilian to their roster with the acquisition of 28-year old midfielder Jean Mota.

Mota, a versatile player who can play as a central midfielder or left-back, is the first of many building blocks to be laid during the Heron’s offseason roster overhaul.

The signing of Mota has been a long time coming.

Reports of the Brazilian’s move have been circulating since late October; recently, Miami made those reports official.

Inter Miami Sporting Director Chris Henderson had this to say about the signing: “He’s a well-rounded, versatile and very smart player on the pitch. He checked every box through our diligent recruitment process, and we are excited to see him represent the Inter Miami badge.”

According to reports out of Brazil, Mota’s transfer fee will be around $534,883.20. For a player in his prime and a position of need for the club, this signing is a low-risk, potentially high reward for Inter Miami.

On the field – presumably, Mota would slot in alongside Gregore.

The Brazilian duo should make a formidable pairing.

Gregore, Inter Miami’s 2021 season MVP, would be the more defensive player of the two, which will allow Mota to get up and down the pitch, giving Miami more dynamic movement in a position that has been stagnant since the club’s inception.

While Mota isn’t a world-beater by any means, he’s much more mobile than previous players Miami has had in his position. His left foot can be dangerous when given time and space, and if the Herons are hit by the injury bug again next season, the 28-year-old can comfortably fill in left-back when needed.

Mota isn’t the flashiest player, but his signing is the first step in a long road ahead for Inter Miami.

Miami Re-Sign Victor Ulloa

Though he’s not a name that stands out on the team sheet, Victor Ulloa’s leadership and ability to be a “Swiss Army Knife” for Phil Neville in 2021 saw him re-signed and awarded a new two-year contract.

Following being traded for by Miami from FC Cincinnati in November of 2019, Ulloa has been a staple in Inter Miami’s roster in their first two seasons. As a result of the trade, Miami took in the previous contract Ulloa had been given that saw him making $220,000 a year. Miami then announced that the option to retain Ulloa on that deal was declined for 2022 and has since announced Ulloa on a brand new agreement for potentially less money.

As Miami is set to face financial sanctions, hitting on value deals will be at the forefront of every deal they’ll make this offseason.

Having a player as versatile as Ulloa in a physical league like MLS is key to keeping your season consistent. As Miami suffered an injury bug in 2021, it was the 29-year-old who stepped in to fulfill whatever position was needed.

Be it as a right-back, a 10, or a deep-lying midfielder, Ulloa did all of that and then some.

As Inter Miami head into their first year of sanctions – even though some of that money was alleviated by Lewis Morgan’s trade to the Red Bulls, re-signing a player like Ulloa on a (presumably) less expensive contact will give Miami tons of flexibility.

Although he only started 14 matches on the field, Ulloa showed that he’s capable of making an impact when given the opportunity.

His knack for the high press and tireless work rate made him a player that Neville often relied on.

Not only is he valuable on the field, off the field, but his contributions to the South Florida community also earned him a nomination for MLS Humanitarian of the Year.

The off-season rebuild won’t be easy, but re-signing a player that is a steady presence in the locker room and is an exemplary professional will go a long way in maintaining a club philosophy and DNA.

 

Top 6 Agility Drills for Soccer Development

Improving skills as a soccer player largely involves being able to take quick and decisive control over the ball. Coaches are often striving to improve their players’ confidence because the more confident they feel when they have the ball in their feet, the better they’ll be at getting around the opposition and knowing when to release the ball to another teammate. 

 

Speedy footwork and coordination go hand-in-hand when it comes to being a better soccer player. The more you work on these elements, the better you’ll feel about using your skills on the pitch.

 

Great agility ladder drills to bring out players’ potential are one of the best techniques that soccer players use to improve their skills. There are tons of agility ladder drills available which can make it difficult to know where to start. 

 

This post covers the top drills that you can start introducing to your players to boost their skills and confidence. 

 

Side Steps

 

Side steps are one of the most common types of agility ladder exercises that you’ve probably seen being performed. It involves you putting both of your feet in both rings before you move on.

 

However, the key with this exercise is to be standing sideways so that you’re moving up the ladder at a sideways angle. Be sure to focus on moving your arms and legs in sync as you move up. This is something that will help with your balance and overall coordination. 

 

Start by going up the ladder facing sideways before going back down it with your opposite foot leading instead. 

 

1-Step & 2 -Step

 

The one-step and two-step exercise is another one that you may have seen being performed. The one-step exercise is simple and involves putting one foot in a ring and changing between them as you move up the ladder. 

 

Be sure not to be taking large strides while doing this exercise. Instead, focus on being speedy and lifting your feet off the ground just enough to clear the ring. At the start, you may need to take things a little slow and make sure that you’re getting the technique right. You can increase the speed once you feel more confident about your coordination. 

The two-step exercise is performed in the same way as the one-step exercise, however, you put both feet in each ring before moving up the ladder. 

 

Jumping Jacks

 

Jumping jacks are excellent for improving your coordination, strength, and balance. This exercise involves you starting with both of your feet inside one ring. You then jump forward and land with both of your feet on the outside of the ring. 

 

After this, you jump into the ring in front of you and make sure that both of your feet land inside the ring. Continue this all the way up the ladder while also swinging your arms upwards over your head with each jump. 

 

Hopping

 

When it comes to hopping, start by hopping forwards into the ring in front of you while making sure that you’re always using the same foot. Do this up the ladder and then come back down. When you come back down the ladder, switch the leg that you’re hopping on. 

 

This exercise is effective for improving your strength and balance. If you find that hopping is too basic or easy, you could add little variations, such as hopping sideways through the rings. 

 

Shuffles

 

Shuffling is where these exercises get a little more complex and they require more focus as you need to master your coordination for these. 

 

Begin by standing to one side of the ladder and proceed to move in and out at a diagonal angle through the ladder. Start from the right side and shuffle yourself to the left side while ensuring that both of your feet remain in the same ring. 

 

Once you’ve shuffled from right to left, you want to put your feet outside of the ring quickly and use it to push yourself and place your foot in the ring that’s ahead of you. You can then bring your opposite foot up into the same ring. 

 

Continue this movement all the way up the ladder. If you’re having a hard time completing this exercise, be sure to start at a slow pace. You can then gradually increase the pace as you go along. 

 

When you’re more confident with performing the shuffle this way, you can progress to doing it backward. This exercise works in the same way as described above, however, you simply move backward instead. 

 

Keep one foot on the outside of the rings while you use the other one to go in and out of the rings as you move backward. Make sure that your foot is quickly touching the inside of the rings and tapping out again before you progress onto the next one. 

 

When one of your feet is tapping in and out of the rings, be sure that your other foot moves in a straight line with it and is moving at the same pace. Also, make sure to alternate which foot taps in and out and which foot stays on the outside. 

 

Crossover

 

The crossover exercise is great for improving your coordination on the pitch during times where your feet cross over. 

 

Start by standing sideways and put one foot in one ring while crossing over your other foot and placing it in the ring ahead. Do this exercise with one foot leading up the ladder and then switch so that your other foot is leading on the way back down. 

 

Conclusion

 

Now that you know more about what some of the best agility ladder drills have to offer, you can start implementing them into your training routines. These exercises are superb for improving speed, coordination, balance, and strength. 

 

Soccer players can boost their confidence on the ball by having better coordination and balance and using agility ladders is a fantastic way to achieve that. Hopefully, you can introduce these exercises and start noticing how your players benefit while playing against opponents. 

 

Inter Miami CF Defeat Toronto FC 3-1, Extend Home Winning Streak

Inter Miami CF extended their home winning streak Saturday night after a 3-1 win over Toronto FC. A brace from Rodolfo Pizarro will lead the headlines, as his renowned “joker” celebration came out for the second and third time all season in Saturday’s match.

The win marked the fourth time in a row that Inter Miami has won at home, and this comes after not winning a home match all season before.

Rodolfo Pizarro opened the scoring in the 15th minute after a Gonzalo Higuain pass found him at the top of the box. Pizarro beat his defender with a chop and beautifully placed the ball into the back of the net with a left-footed finish that found the bottom corner. The play stemmed from a Kieran Gibbs sliding interception to take back possession from Toronto, which highlighted how well Miami pressed upfront in the match.

Just twenty minutes later, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, from his center back position, found himself in a place to make an outside-the-foot pass through to Robbie Robinson on the left-wing. Robinson received the pass in stride and beat Toronto defender and former United States International Omar Gonzalez to get a left-footed shot past the keeper and right under the crossbar for the goal.

With a 2-0 lead, Miami was in the driver’s seat. Miami was able to hold on to the 2-0 lead in the first half despite a couple of nervy possessions in which the defense gave up a couple of fouls in good areas.

Toronto came very close to scoring on a free kick taken by the 5’2 man, Yeferson Sotledo, in the 27th minute as he hit the crossbar from just outside the box.

It was only right after the second half began that Inter Miami scored their third goal. LGP found Pizarro with an over-the-top through ball, and he finished with a chip over the keeper from outside of the box. It was a magnificent finish from the Mexican International, who was on pace to score the first hattrick in the club’s history.

He was later subbed off before he could achieve that feat.

Noticeably, Pizarro walked off the pitch disappointed, and Neville touched on it post-game.

“He wanted the match ball; he wants to score goals,” Neville stated. “I loved his reaction when he got angry when he came off.”

Kieran Gibbs became the fourth goalscorer of the night, but not how he or the club would have wanted. Toronto lined up for a set-piece, whipped in a cross, and Gibbs scored his second header of the season as an own goal.

That own goal ruined Miami’s chances of getting their second clean sheet on the year. As they still search for their first shutout since May 2nd (0-0 away at Nashville), it’s a good thing the offense is clicking and scoring goals.

Miami matched their highest goal number in a game with three and have now scored six in their last two games, both in which they won.

The 3-1 scoreline, in the end, was a great and much-needed result for Miami as they defeated the worst team in the Eastern Conference. At the same time, with Chicago’s loss to Orlando City following the match’s conclusion in Fort Lauderdale, Miami jumped to 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

Inter Miami CF ended the night five points out of a playoff spot, with two games in hand on the teams above them.

On Friday, August 27th, Miami plays in Orlando to take on OCSC for the third and final time in the MLS Regular Season.

Tips for Young Soccer Players to Progress

If you’re a young soccer player, you have an amazing journey ahead. If you make it all the way, you could achieve glory and earn millions. If you don’t, you will still enjoy years of playing and meet plenty of new friends. If you want to make the most of your young soccer career, check out these helpful tips. 

Have fun

 

First of all, playing soccer is all about having fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you might as well find something else to do with your time. It’s okay to take soccer seriously, and it’s good to be competitive, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself while you’re out on the field. 

Come prepared

 

When you turn up to a soccer game or practice, you need to be prepared. You should come physically prepared with the right equipment (boots, shin pads, jerseys, etc.). Plus, you should also be prepared mentally. Think about your game beforehand, try to analyze your opponents, and be prepared for any potential outcome. 

Be willing to try new things

 

There are a huge number of technical skills and tactics associated with soccer. However, it’s not like the game has been completely figured out yet. Be willing to try new things, whether it’s a new trick or a new way of striking the ball. Experimentation in your early playing career, and you will develop your own style of play. 

Always carry around a ball wherever you go

 

Practice makes perfect when it comes to soccer. That’s why you should always carry a ball wherever you gIo. If you go to a family BBQ and you don’t want to talk to the adults, you can practice kicking the ball against a wall. On your way to school, you can practice dribbling on the pavement. The more you practice, the better your chances are of success. 

Be a sponge

 

Don’t assume you know everything about soccer. You might be the best player on your team, but thousands of people are more knowledgeable than you. Be a sponge for new information. Listen to your coaches, teammates, and parents. This will help you identify weaknesses in your game and improve. 

 

Attend a youth camp 

 

One of the best things you can do as a young soccer player is attending a youth soccer camp in Europe or America. This will allow you to test your skills against other talented, young players. You will also get a chance to showcase your skills to new coaches and potentially even get scouted for a professional team. 

Dribble

 

Dribbling with the ball is one of the most important skills in soccer. The better you are at moving along with the ball, the better you will be in a match situation. Practice dribbling at different speeds and with both of your feet. 

 

Pass the ball

 

Soccer is a team game. However, many young players try to do it all on their own. Practice passing the ball to your teammates. This will make you a more rounded soccer player and will improve your teamwork skills. If you want to make it all the way to the professional level, passing will be an essential skill. 

Is Phil Foden Going to be the Star of Euro 2020?

Phil Foden has had an incredible career to date. The Greater Manchester-born 21-year-old has managed to force his way into the Manchester City first XI, despite competing with a wealth of world class superstars for a starting berth at the Etihad. Now, the PFA Young Player of the Year and three-time Premier League winner is getting a chance to star for England in his first major international tournament. Many people think that he could be one of the standout performers in the competition.

There Has Been Serious Hype Around Foden

As tends to be the case when England prepare to enter a major soccer competition, there is a lot of hype around some of the players that manager Gareth Southgate has at his disposal. Few have been talked up as much as Foden, though, who is expected to be one of the main players to watch at Euro 2021. The youngster was pivotal to City’s title-winning campaign in 2020-21, and he also played a crucial role in his team’s journey to the Champions League final.

The hype around Foden is justified, with Pep Guardiola having previously referred to him as the most talented player he has ever seen. From someone who has managed Lionel Messi, that is an incredible statement. It underlines the explosive potential that City have nurtured so brilliantly to date.

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Southgate Has a Lot of Quality in Attack

The only problem for Foden is the fact that he is not necessarily guaranteed to start every game for the Three Lions this summer. Southgate has a vast number of options in the positions that the Stockport Iniesta likes to operate in. Foden has played in a variety of positions for City this season, although he has mainly featured in central midfield and on the left or right of a front three, so he will be hoping to pin down one of these roles in the England team. However, he is capable of playing in all the attacking positions, including as a false nine.

England Have Other Players Who Could Shine

Along with Foden, there are few other England starlets that could use Euro 2020 as an opportunity to show the world what they are capable of. Jack Grealish has been such an impactful player for Aston Villa for many years now, and he finally has the chance to display his incredible talent in the national side.

Chelsea’s Mason Mount is another player who is expected to produce big things for Southgate this summer. The 22-year-old’s versatility means that he can play in a number of positions across the park, and he is highly likely to make the first XI consistently.

With Foden in the form of his life and reminiscent of a young Wayne Rooney, England fans have a lot to get excited about for this summer’s tournament. If the City man can nail down a spot in Southgate’s setup, he has the potential to set the world alight.

Five dark horses for English soccer’s 2021/22 Premier League title

With Manchester City looking to run away with the Premier League title this season, some eyes are already looking ahead to who might challenge next term.

The big names are of course expected to be in the running once again, but England’s top flight has provided shocks in the past, and here are five teams that might be competing come the business end of the competition for the 2021/22 campaign.

Chelsea

While Manchester City and Liverpool have been the dominant forces in England in recent campaigns, Chelsea look capable of returning to the top of the pile in the Premier League. Manager Thomas Tuchel has helped the Blues resolve the issues in defense that saw his predecessor Frank Lampard lose his position at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues are being linked with some top strikers this summer, with Borussia Dortmund starlet Erling Haaland just one forward to be connected with a move to west London. A big signing upfront could take Chelsea to the next level, and see them attempt to leapfrog City and Liverpool.

Leicester City

A side that have already tasted Premier League glory in the shock season that was 2015/2016, manager Brendan Rodgers has brought the Foxes back to a side challenging at the top. Italian tactician Claudio Ranieri was the mastermind behind Leicester’s unexpected title win in 2016, and now Rodgers is looking to take the East Midlands outfit back to those dizzying heights.

The Foxes, who are 2.45 at bonusfinder.com BetMGM in Pennsylvania to win the FA Cup final this season, have shown they can mix with the best teams in England this term. Although falling short of the title, Leicester did manage to record a 5-2 win at champions-elect Man City at the start of the season.

Improvements will need to be made over the summer, but Leicester are a team to look out for in the title race next term.

West Ham United

One side that has been one of the big surprises in the Premier League this season is West Ham United. Former Manchester United boss David Moyes has silenced his critics, after what was a tough spell for the Scot at Old Trafford. Now Moyes has overseen a drastic improvement with the Hammers, who are hoping to secure Champions League soccer for the first time.

If West Ham can continue on their current trajectory, then who knows what they might be able to achieve next season with Moyes at the helm?

Everton

Everton made an electric start to the season under boss Carlo Ancelotti but failed to keep up the pace of Pep Guardiola’s City. The Toffees are still in contention to secure Champions League soccer, in what is to be an intriguing end to the season.

Seeing European soccer return to Goodison Park will help the Merseyside outfit attract better players over the summer, and perhaps the men in blue could spring some surprises next season.

Leeds United

A team that will be ranked outsiders for the Premier League title next season are Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. The Whites have enjoyed their first campaign back in the top flight after a 16-year exodus, and hope to secure a top-half finish this season.

 

Bielsa’s attacking style has attracted plenty of admirers this term, and new additions at Elland Road over the summer should see the West Yorkshire outfit take the next step. Talk of being title contenders might be a bit premature for this team, but with points against the likes of City, Liverpool and Man United this term, Leeds have already shown they can compete with the big boys.

2020-21 has been a tumultuous season for England’s top division. With these sometimes unexpected title contenders, could 2021-22 be just as exciting?

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.

Neymar’s Poker Passion Helps Him Score Lucrative Partnership Deal

Brazilian soccer star Neymar is no stranger to lucrative sponsorship deals, having racked up sponsorships with Beats, Nike, Volkswagen, Santander, and Unilever worth tens of millions of dollars. The former FC Barcelona legend was also the third-highest paid footy player in the world in 2019, earning a staggering $110 million.

If you were ever wondering how the star forward has been spending some of his hard-earned cash, we now have the answer. In December 2020, it was announced that Neymar would officially be partnering up with Poker Star, the world’s largest online poker cardroom that controls two-thirds of the global online poker market.

Although this might seem like an odd choice of partnership for a 29-year-old footballing legend, it turns out that Neymar is the perfect fit. In numerous statements released by the player since the partnership deal was announced, he has been feeding fans details about his lifelong love of the game of poker.

He has said on his Instagram page that “whenever I am not playing football, I am playing poker” and that he loves poker because of “the sense of community, the fun, and the unpredictable moments that can occur in any game”.

While skeptics might assume that this love of poker is a newfound obsession that coincides with his presumably lucrative contract with Poker Star, they would be wrong. It turns out Neymar has been a dedicated member of the global poker circuit for many years now, playing at both public tournaments and anonymously in online poker rooms.

People first started paying attention to Neymar’s passion for poker back in 2015, when he was snapped by paparazzi while attempting to maintain a low profile at the EPT Poker Championships in Barcelona. He has also been snapped playing at various low and high-roller poker tournaments across Europe, including a number of matches in Girona.

Although he clearly loves the excitement of an in-person poker session, his passion for poker clearly extends beyond high-profile tournaments. He also spends a lot of his spare time playing online poker on a variety of websites and streaming his gaming adventures on Twitch, where he currently has 1.3 million followers (his username in Neymarjr, for anyone who might be wondering).

There, he can often be seen playing up to three or four online poker games at a time, all while engaging with his massive online fanbase and taking poker advice from some of the best players in the business. He is also known to go head-to-head with his fans around the world, usually taking requests on IG Live or via his Twitch channel.

If you fancy facing off against one of soccer’s greatest players at a virtual poker table, you might want to work on your game. Poker is certainly more than just a hobby for Neymar, which is demonstrated by the fact that he has actually won several small-scale poker tournaments over the course of the past few years. Should you be feeling particularly lucky, you should brush up on your poker variants.

Although classic Texas hold ’em is Neymar’s primary game of choice, he is also known to be partial to a few rounds of 7 card stud and Omaha. The different versions of the game are becoming increasingly popular with amateur players. As this asiabet.org guide to online poker explains, anyone can play online variants such as Texas Hold ‘Em, 5 card stud, and Omaha, online for free, by opting to play with fake money against real players. This allows players to build up their poker-playing prowess.

Neymar’s love of poker is, of course, not a unique thing among soccer stars. A number of famous soccer players have gone on to forge high-profile partnerships with both online and physical poker providers. Gerard Pique, Ronaldo, and Tomas Brolin are all well-known in the world of international poker and frequently visit various online poker lounges in their spare time.

However, none of these seem to have the same lifelong passion for the game that Neymar has, which is probably what makes him such as perfect fit for the sponsorship deal he has landed. While he is almost certainly being paid handsomely for the sponsorship, one cannot help but wonder whether he would have agreed to do the whole thing for free, given that he is such an obvious poker mega fan.

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.