Sellout crowds are the aim for Orlando City, as a new downtown stadium awaits.

Sit down with Orlando City SC: Taking on Beckham, emulating the Timbers and Kaka in 2015 – Part I

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Last week after all the rigmarole and hype had subsided somewhat, I got the chance to speak with two of the leading lights of Major League Soccer’s newest franchise.

Chatting away with Co-owner and President of Orlando City Soccer Club Phil Rawlins and current head coach Adrian Heath, I got the sense that these guys are only at the beginning of an incredible journey as they aim to take MLS and soccer in North America by storm.

Since relocating the team from Austin, Texas to Orlando in 2011 and blitzing their way to two USL Pro titles in recent years, Orlando City were finally confirmed as MLS’ 21st franchise on November 19.

With a new 20,000 capacity soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando signed and sealed, plus a plan in place to eventually  become MLS’ best side, Rawlins and Heath have a busy time ahead of them. But that’s not to say the journey they’ve been on thus far hasn’t taken plenty of time and effort as paperwork, funding and red-tape has held them up.

(MORE: Orlando City SC confirms they will be next MLS franchise)

Finally they’ve reached the promised land and now they’re in MLS, that’s only the beginning.

I was about to find that out, as I spoke with the two Brits who are aiming to transform soccer in Central Florida and, in time, the U.S.

source: Getty Images
David Beckham is trying to the big guns involved in bringing MLS to Miami. Orlando City would love their Floridian rival to join the party.

On any doubt about making it to MLS:

PR: I never really doubted it would happen to be honest with you. We’ve always known that there’s some twists and turns along the way and some bumps in the road that we’d have to navigate. I’ve never really had a doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t happen at some point. It was just a case of how quickly could we make it happen and how quickly could we get into the league to start playing. That was our focus, our ultimate goal was to get in at the start of 2015 if at all possible. We’ve achieved that, so we’re delighted.

On Miami potentially getting an MLS franchise:

AH: I think you only have to look at the Pacific Northwest to see what rivalry will bring to the table. If you look at Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, the rivalry is incredible and it’s captured the imagination of everyone… not just soccer fans. The atmosphere resonates to everybody. If we could do something likewise with Miami and there’s talk about Atlanta and one or two other places, who is to say we couldn’t generate the same sort of rivalry?

In world soccer, that is the thing that drives a lot of it: derby games.

On being the focal point and ‘trailblazers’ of soccer in the Southeast:

PR: I think we very much do [see themselves as trailblazers]. This is a very good market place, a young growing city, it’s got a great demographic for soccer. The average age is 34, right in the target of MLS. We see ourselves as being somewhat trailblazers but we love being the pioneers, we set our own standards. We have done for many, many years. We’ve looked to set a new bar for soccer not only in the Southeast but across MLS.

If we’re successful, which we know we will be, that will only just create more and more interest in market places locally and like Adrian said hopefully fuel those rivalries and derby games to come.

On emulating any current expansion sides in MLS:

source: Getty Images
Emulating the match day experience on display at JELD-WEN Field is something high on Orlando’s to-o list.

AH: I’ve always liked the way Salt Lake play, I think they play the game the right way. I like what Sporting have done and I think you have to take your hat off to what Caleb Porter has done in his first year at Portland. They try and play football the right way, they play at a high tempo and high energy game, which is something that I think supporters enjoy. In terms of on the field, if we could do what Sporting have been doing since they moved into the new stadium and play like Salt Lake and get the atmosphere that Portland get… we’ve crossed all three boxes!

On playing philosophy and what type of player Orlando will bring in:

AH: I think it will be a bit of a mixture of all the things you’ve just mentioned [big name DPs, top college recruits and players from their own academy]. The ownership group, Phil and Flavio, have never made any secret that they want to bring in a big time player when we arrive. Obviously the name out their all the time is Kaka, whether it’s Kaka or somebody else, it will be somebody of that ilk we think. But certainly, since we’ve been here, we’ve been working hard in our own way behind the scenes with the academy. We think we’re starting to make inroads there. We’ve got four of our kids now in the U.S. development pool. We’re trying to do a bit of everything and we know we’re going to have to being players in from college because that’s where we will get the bulk of our squad from, or certainly within the league.

So overall, it’s a little bit of everything. Ultimately it’s about putting a team together, young, old or whatever, we just want to make sure on the opening day we’re going to be competitive from day one.

source: Getty Images
Kaka is a player constantly linked with Orlando City, the club says a DP of his caliber will arrive in 2015.

On any potential link up with Stoke City in the future:

PR: We don’t have a formal relationship with Stoke. The connection obviously runs deeps because I’m a part-owner of Stoke and I’ve been a director at Stoke for 14 years now. Adrian is of course an ex-player and began his career there. We have deep, emotional connections to the club, we don’t have a formal contract so we won’t be looking at bringing players in from loan there. What it does give us, through Adrian, myself and Flavio’s business colleagues in South America, it gives us a great network to tap into to bring the very best of those marketplaces here.

The relationships we have there is worth a lot, so we will look to exploit those and make the very most of them and bring the very best talent that we can and then marry that with the best local talent.

Kelechi Iheanacho’s incredible rise to stardom

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City (R) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates Nolito of Manchester City (C) and Raheem Sterling of Manchester City (L)  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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What a story.

Kelechi Iheanacho is one of the top young forwards on the planet — he has the best minutes per goal ratio in Premier League history, by the way — but we don’t know much about how the soft-spoken youngster ended up at Manchester City.

Now we do.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

In the latest superb first-person piece from the Players’ Tribune, Iheanacho, still just 20 years old, recalled his journey from Nigeria to England as he continues to make a big impact at one of the biggest clubs on the planet.

Ahead of Man City’s big Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), below is an excerpt from the piece where Iheanacho talks about the impact of his mother’s death and that in-turn explains his goal celebration.

You can read the piece in full here via the Players’ Tribune, as he recalls how he watched Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal in 2012 in a games arcade in southern Nigeria.

Later that year, I was invited to play for the under-17 Nigerian national team, and it was a big opportunity for me. We went away to training camp on the other side of the country. But then at the start of camp, I received news from home that my mother was sick. I didn’t know how bad it was — I just knew she was sick. And it was a very long and hard camp, so I could not go home to see her. This was my chance to go for my dream. The next news I got from home, a few weeks later, was that my mother had died.

It is very hard for me to talk about this.

I felt so sad, and it was a very, very hard time, but I had to stay at the camp to keep training. My mother loved her children, and she had always pushed me to keep working hard, even when it was football and not books. So I just kept working hard. The next year, our Nigerian national team won the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup. I scored five goals in the tournament. Every time I scored, I would point my fingers to the sky.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 22

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Premier League action is here and things are tense at both ends of the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game, Week 22 ]  

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 2-0 Hull City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-3 Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-0 Burnley – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-3 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

West Brom 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 2-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Liverpool 1-1 Swansea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Manchester City 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Steven Gerrard returns to Liverpool in coaching role

Gerrard's arrival in MLS is eagerly anticipated.
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Steven Gerrard is back where he belongs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Gerrard, 36, will take up his first coaching role since retiring as a player in November.

Liverpool have described Gerrard’s new job, which he will start in February, as “a wide-ranging role in the professional development phase of the young players” and he will work under academy director Alex Inglethorpe.

The former Liverpool captain and legend hung up his boots after the 2016 Major League Soccer season ended with LA Galaxy and now he will begin life as a coach.

Speaking about his full-time role with Liverpool, which will see him work at the youth complex in Kirkby, Gerrard is excited to get going.

“It feels like completing the circle; returning to the place where professionally it all began. However, this isn’t a decision based on emotion – it’s about what I can offer and contribute to Liverpool. I don’t think I need to explain to people what this football club means to me, but when I knew coming back was a serious option I wanted to make sure it was a substantive role and a role in which I could really help the organisation.

“Meeting with Alex Inglethorpe, seeing the work they are currently doing and want to do in the future at Kirkby, it just felt right. The right option at the right time, for all parties involved. This gives me a great opportunity to learn and develop as a coach, while at the same time offering my knowledge, ideas and experience to the young players at an important period of their development.”

Gerrard grew up in Liverpool as a fan of the club and came through their academy system himself, making his professional debut as a 18-year-old and spending 17 years at the club as a first team player before moving to the LA Galaxy in 2015.

There is perhaps nobody better for this role as the former midfielder made 710 appearances for the Reds, scoring 186 goals and won 10 trophies in his time at Anfield, including captaining the side to a historic UEFA Champions League title in 2005.

He is Mr. Liverpool.

In this new role Gerrard will have a strong influence on the next crop of youngsters to come through at Liverpool and many will see this as the first step towards him having a big role in Jurgen Klopp‘s coaching staff and maybe one day taking over from the German head coach.

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League schedule, Week 22

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Week 22 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Liverpool host Swansea City (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Anfield looking to grab a win which would close the gap on leaders Chelsea, while Swansea are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table.

Stoke City host Manchester United (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s men aiming to extend their unbeaten run to 13 games in the Premier League. At the same time Crystal Palace host Everton (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as Sam Allardyce looks to grab his first win as Palace boss in the PL against the in-form Toffees.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

Rounding off Saturday is a big game at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur (12:30 p.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Pep Guardiola has already conceded the title but Spurs have a real chance of Chelsea as Maurico Pochettino’s side are chasing a seventh-straight PL win.

On Sunday, Leicester visit Southampton (7 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both the Foxes and Saints in real danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. Then Arsenal welcome Burnley to the Emirates Stadium (9:15 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with the Gunners hoping to stay in the title hunt, while the Clarets seek a first away win of the season.

Rounding off Week 22, leaders Chelsea welcome Hull City to Stamford Bridge (11:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Antonio Conte had Diego Costa back fit and available but the Blues will be wary of new Hull boss Marco Silva after a positive start to his spell at the KCOM Stadium.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Everton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Hull City – NBCSN [STREAM