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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.

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.

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.

Three U.S. Soccer Players Excelling Overseas

Association football – soccer – is not the most popular sport in the United States. Actually, it’s the least popular among the top 5 sports in the country – gridiron football (aka football), baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. Even with its sharp increase in viewership – due in part to the influx of major international soccer stars like Englishman Wayne Rooney who recently ended his tenure with DC United and David Beckham, who strengthened the ranks of LA Galaxy for five seasons before returning to Europe and ultimately retiring in 2013. 

There are approximately 250 million soccer players in the world, with more than 100,000 of them playing professionally. Standing out from this crowd is about as easy as hitting a jackpot at the JackpotCity online casino. Maybe harder, actually: the odds of hitting the jackpot at JackpotCity are about 1 in 50 million, and all you need to do is play the game. Becoming an outstanding player, in turn, requires a combination of talent, skill, hard work, perseverance, and luck – while talent scouts are continuously looking for great players, they are not perfect either. 

The US is not the greatest soccer nation in the world. Still, it’s a breeding ground for talented players – increasingly in the recent years. And there are quite a few great, outstanding players coming from the US making a name for themselves overseas.

 

Giovanni (Gio) Reyna

Born and raised in New York City, Gio Reyna joined the youth team of the local club New York City FC in 2015. During his time there, he was spotted by talent scouts from Europe, ultimately joining the ranks of the German club Borussia Dortmund last year.

 

Reyna made his first-team debut in Dortmund’s Bundesliga (Germany’s top-flight soccer league) last January, coming on as a substitute in a match against FC Augsburg. Since then, he became a regular, playing 22 league games and scoring one goal for the team. He was also called up repeatedly for the US national team, playing more than 30 games in the team’s youth matches, and twice (with one goal) for the senior team.

Reyna is excited about his future with Borussia Dortmund, saying that he’s ready for an even bigger role in the team going forward.

Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic is perhaps the most expensive American soccer player to date: English Premier League club Chelsea paid £58 million ($77 million today) in 2019 to have him, which made his transfer the third-most-expensive in the year.

Born and raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic tried his hand (or better said, feet) in soccer at the age of seven, when he lived a year in England. Later, he joined Michigan Rush while his family lived in Michigan, and after returning home, he joined the ranks of the “PA Classics” academy in 2008. During his teens, he trained with Penn FC before he was scouted by German club Borussia Dortmund in 2015. He joined Dortmund’s youth team, standing out through his skill (he scored 10 times and assisted 8 times in his first 15 U17 games). As a result, he joined the senior team in the winter of 2016, after turning 18.

After two seasons with Dortmund, Pulisic left for the misty Albion, joining English Premier League club Chelsea in the summer of 2019. His first goals in the Premier League – a hat-trick against Burnley – followed soon. 

Pulisic has played 34 games for the US National Team so far, scoring 14 times in the process.

 

Zack Steffen

A good goalkeeper is just as important for a soccer team as a forward or a defender – yet goalies are rarely in the spotlight. So, let’s correct this and take a look at the career of US goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Steffen started playing football recreationally at the age of five, and started training professionally when starting high school. In the early 2010s, he played with the Philadelphia Union youth academy, and was ranked the #1 goalkeeper of his generation by TopDrawerSoccer.com. In college, he played two seasons with the Maryland Terrapins before being signed by German soccer club SC Freiburg in 2014.

He made his senior debut with Freiburg’s second team in 2015. A year later, he joined Columbus Crew SC for three seasons (and a loan spell at Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2016) before being signed by the Premier League club Manchester City last summer. His career in the Premier League was interrupted by a loan spell with German Bundesliga team Fortuna Düsseldorf, where sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel called him “the perfect example of a modern goalkeeper”. Steffen returned to Manchester City for the 2020-2021 Premier League season as a first-team goalie.

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

Inter Miami CF’s Playoff Chances

As it stands, Inter Miami CF currently hold the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with three games remaining. After beating Orlando City Saturday and a Chicago Fire draw later that night, the Herons will go into their next match holding the conference’s final playoff spot.

Due to the shortened season, MLS decided to alter the playoffs and award four extra teams in the Eastern Conference and two extra teams in the Western Conference a playoff berth. So, instead of the normal six teams from years prior, ten Eastern Conference teams will compete in the MLS Playoffs. Inter Miami’s negative record of 6-3-11 (W-D-L) has given them a total of 21 points over 20 games. That is NOT a great record, but in a year like 2020, it’s still enough to end a week in a playoff position.

The 10th spot

Inter Miami is only in the 10th position due to a tiebreaker over Chicago. As Chicago (21 pts) only has 5 wins, and Inter Miami has 6, the Herons are above in the standings. One thing Miami lacks right now over Chicago is a game in hand. While Miami has played 20 total matches, Chicago has only played 19. As much as a fan would like for Inter Miami’s fate to be in the team’s own hands, they still need to hope for results around the league.

Both teams play away games Wednesday night against respectable opponents. Miami will travel to Texas as they take on FC Dallas, while Chicago will travel to Subaru Park to take on the Philadelphia Union. The Union right now are in a crazy run of form. They’ve only dropped points in one of their last five games, and beating Toronto FC Saturday by a score of 5-0 was more than enough to let Philadelphia overtake the Canadian side for first place in the East. FC Dallas, however, has only won one of their last seven games but is now in a very tight playoff race out West. They surely won’t be looking to drop any points at home; therefore, Inter will have to be on their game.

These games will prove to be critical at the season’s conclusion. Inter Miami nor Chicago will be favored in their matchups, but a betting man might tell you that Inter Miami holds the edge. If things work out in Inter Miami’s favor (a win for IMCF, a loss for CFFC), Chicago will still have a game in hand but will be down three points and two numbers in the win column, which would be massive for Inter going into the final two weeks.

Moving up?

Another game other than Chicago-Philadelphia that is important for Inter Miami is the Tuesday night matchup between Montreal and Nashville. Montreal (23 pts) currently sits in 9th place with a two-point lead over Inter Miami. Miami missed their first opportunity to overtake Montreal in the standings when they lost 2-1 to the Impact last week. Had Miami won, they’d feel a lot more comfortable with their playoff hopes. Depending on Tuesday’s result, Miami would have another chance to overtake Montreal in the standings. A loss or a tie for Montreal would put them on 24 points or 23 points, with a -9 or worse goal differential, and just seven wins. If Miami can capitalize on a Montreal loss or tie with a win over FC Dallas the next day, they’ll head into their following match sitting in the East’s 9th place.

Going much further than 9th to finish the season is A LOT to ask for. Though still possible, the teams ahead will have to do a lot of losing. Nashville SC sits in 8th with 25 points, New York Red Bulls are in 7th with 26 points, and beyond that, it is not really worth trying to come up with scenarios for.

The best outcome for Inter Miami maybe a tie in Tuesday’s match between Nashville and Montreal, but it’s probably in the team’s best interest to end up with a Nashville victory so they can overtake Montreal in the table solely on points.

Past the Midweek Games

If Inter Miami does win Wednesday and both Montreal and Chicago lose in their respective midweek matchups, the team’s fate will then mathematically lay in their own hands. Montreal would be down on points, and if Miami wins out, they cannot be caught by any other team from that point on. Winning is the key here, though. Remember, this is an expansion team whose only been able to draw up 6 wins over 20 games thus far. Not only that, but there’s only been one time the entire season where Inter Miami has won just TWO games in a row. While looking at the chances, it must be taken into account that the team is being asked to win their final three games in a row after winning the game prior.

Past the Dallas game, Miami plays Toronto FC away and then are home vs. FC Cincinnati to finish the season. For Montreal, other than Nashville, their last two opponents are Orlando City and D.C. United. And for Chicago, they’ll round out the season against Nashville, Minnesota, and NYCFC.

In these last couple of weeks, Inter Miami could really use all possible points. A tie in any remaining game would mean Montreal or Chicago would need to drop points in another game outside of the midweek games coming up. It’d be a lot to ask for.

If Miami could make it three wins from their last three and find a final run of form, they are likely in. If not, get ready for fans to cheer ever so hard against Montreal and Chicago.

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.

Match Recap: Inter Miami CF vs. Orlando City SC

Inter Miami sealed their first-ever win over Orlando City Saturday night. Julian Carranza led the Herons with a brace as Miami sealed a 3-2 victory at Inter Miami CF Stadium.

The long-awaited first home match for Inter Miami did not disappoint. After a fabulous first 45 minutes of play, Miami saw out the victory on its home turf. Orlando was unable to snatch a point late in the game, and Miami came away with its first points of the 2020 MLS Regular Season.

First Half

In the 12th minute of play, Carranza had won a ball in midfield that fell to Rodolfo Pizarro. The Mexican International dribbled right at a defender with his striker alongside. Carranza received a perfectly weighted and timed pass from Pizarro as he overlapped him, and tucked the ball into the near post for a 1-0 lead.

Miami’s defense was beaten just 6 minutes later, as Orlando rookie Darryl Dike bodied Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to the ground, which led to a turn and a shot on target. Goalkeeper Luis Robles did well to make the first save, however, Andres Reyes or Ben Sweat couldn’t clear the ball, which led to Dike striking home the rebound.

At 1-1, Miami was still playing inspired. Winning balls in the midfield and organized defending translated into some positive play. A lot of the first half featured Inter Miami progressing into the final third with countless forward dribbles and passes. The use of Lewis Morgan on the wing seemed to be in the game plan for Diego Alonso’s side, but ultimately the opposite side provided Miami’s second goal.

In the 22nd minute, Sweat had received a pass from the midfield as he ran down the wing. With his head up, he saw Carranza making a run at the back post. Immediately Sweat put in a fantastic cross that Carranza was able to head perfectly. From the left side of the keeper at the back post, the striker lofted his headed attempt across to the top of the goal in an unreachable position. Just like that, Miami was back on top at 2-1.

Pizarro and Carranza were a delight to watch in the first 45 minutes. The play from the two going forward showcased what this team can bring on the offensive front. Carranza was extremely active in the entire match. He won a handful of freekicks for Miami and bothered Orlando defenders for the majority of the first half. The 2-1 lead at the halftime break was a result of inspiring play from the whole team.

Second Half

Inter Miami was able to carry this momentum straight out of the gate. The tactics from the first half did not change as Miami found themselves in a scoring position only three minutes into the restart.

Defender Nicolas Figal, who found himself a lot of freedom to go forward this game, played a backheel pass to Morgan on the wing. Morgan was able to put a ball into the box that found a backward header from Victor Ulloa that landed perfectly to Pizarro’s foot. In the most composed manner, Miami’s Number 10 slotted the ball into the bottom corner to give them a 3-1 lead.

Just seconds later after the goal, Carranza was on a break and found Pizarro with a headed through ball. He took a shot just inside the box and barely missed his chance for a second as he struck the inside of the far post. Even up 3-1, Miami fans were able to watch a hungry, attacking side.

After three yellow cards in a quick 13 minutes for Miami (53′, 62′, 66′), it was evident legs became heavy. Orlando had subbed on Chris Mueller at the half, who made quite the impact in the latter part of the match.

Immediately following a triple substitution for Miami, which featured Brek Shea, who made his first appearance for the club, Orlando scored a second goal. Dike did well to body LGP yet again and played a back pass to Mueller on the corner of the box. Mueller did well to send in a cross to the head of Luis Nani on the back post, and Robles had no chance. Now 78 minutes in, Miami was pressured to hold on.

Orlando threw numbers forward in the last 10 minutes plus 5 of added time, but ultimately Miami stood strong. Just like that, Inter Miami had finally won a game.

 

The 3-2 win will go down as a monumental day for Inter Miami. The first win and the first home game are two huge steps to take as a club. Miami will look to carry this momentum into Wednesday as they take on Atlanta United for the first time.