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

Q&A with new Orlando City VP of soccer Paul McDonough: MLS entry, team philosophy and nurturing young talent

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Last week Orlando City appointed Paul McDonough as their new Vice President of Soccer Operations ahead of their entry into Major League Soccer in 2015.

The former assistant coach at Wake Forest, UConn and the College of Charleston has had a glittering career in the college game at some of the nations top programs, but now it’s time to take the reins at one of MLS’ new expansion franchises.

Recently McDonough has been in the agency game in his role as Director of Global Soccer at Wasserman Media Group, that has seen him represent MLS stars such as Darlington Nagbe, Teal Bunbury and Darren Mattocks amongst many others.

McDonough has close links with MLS and is now in charge of recruiting players for Orlando ahead of the 2015 season, as well as helping head coach Adrian Heath and Club President Phil Rawlins make MLS’ 21st team into a side that can compete for Championships straight-away.

I got the chance to speak exclusively with McDonough about a plethora of topics earlier this week, and this is what he had to say.

What attracted you to Orlando?

The opportunity and the challenge to get in with a blank canvas and do something special. The environment and the atmosphere the last few years around here has been great. I think it’s only going to get better, moving forward.

On the short and long-term goals for Orlando City SC? Have you had a chance to plan all that already?

Not completely. In the short-term it’s just getting acclimated to the team and MLS, there are a  lot of different facets. A lot of scouting that needs to take place for us to get ready. My main focus will be getting ready for that part of it, while Adrian Heath [head coach] will focus on the present team. Long-term goals is to be very competitive in MLS.

How about your day-to-day job? What are you key focus’ with Orlando City?

Key focus for me is to get a structure of the layout of the club. Scouting, short-term and long-term scouting needs to get put into place. So I can really focus on that. As time goes on I will look at the academy and see how we can improve because Homegrowns are going to be a big part of our club and how we move forward.

source:
A growing fanbase excites McDonough as a huge challenge lies ahead.

Due to your influential career in the college game and at the youth level, will Orlando be looking to bring in a lot of domestic talent from the U.S. and Canada?

I think we will look for talent anywhere that will make the club successful. The Homegrowns, it’s a great atmosphere around here and we need to be successful with Homegrown players, so we want kids to stay at home and play for us.

So there will be a mixture of potential big signings, and building from within?

Yeah, I think when you’re building a team now will look from within MLS with the expansion draft and the SuperDraft will be important for us. Homegrowns, whether they are short-term or down the road, and international signings are always going to part of this league.

How have you found working with Adrian Heath [head coach] and Phil Rawlins [President] at Orlando?

I have complete faith and trust in them, and that’s why I took the challenge on. They have done so well on the playing field and I think what they’ve done off the field is amazing. It’s only going to get better. I feel very comfortable with that.

What will be the difference from making that jump up from the college game to the pros? Is there something new that you will bring to the table? What big challenges do you envisage?

I have traveled all over the world looking for players and I’ve spent the last four years in the agency world. I’m familiar with the professional players and their mentalities. I think the challenge is just going to be waiting out and finding the best players that fit the style and system of Orlando.

Do you know what system and style that is going to be? Is this something you’ve already discussed at length with Adrian?

He wants to play an attacking brand of soccer. 4-2-3-1 is the ideal formation. But we want to play an attacking and entertaining type soccer. We’ve discussed it in-depth, so now it’s all about finding the players who can help him on the field and to where he wants to go.

source:
McDonough has worked with and represented some of the best young domestic talents.

Following your time in the agency world, can you give us some examples of the success stories you had?

I just did a deal for Juan Agudelo to Stoke, then he went on loan to Utrecht. Did the Brek Shea deal to Stoke, I represented Darlington Nagbe and Teal Bunbury throughout their whole career. I think Darlington is one of the future stars of our leagues. I’ve had Darren Mattocks for his whole career. I’ve had Zach Lloyd his whole career from UNC. And also a relatively unknown goalkeeper who plays for the New York Red Bulls, Ryan Meara. I think he is going to continue to do really well.

What is your opinion of the Designated Player rule? Is it something that helps or hinders most MLS squads with the big discrepancy between the DPs and the younger guys?

I think every club has their own philosophy. I’m still learning about the philosophy of what the ownership group here want to approach it. Look, I think the DP rule has done well for the league but there’s always a discrepancy in a salary cap league when you have DPs. But overall, it’s good for the league.

What changes would you’d like to see with the salary cap, maybe increase the minimum wage to stop younger players hopping over to Europe when they get out of college?

The league pays most guys well. As opposed to going to Scandinavia or something like that, I think that’s why players stay. I think the collective bargaining agreement will be interesting this year, but I will leave that to the league and the MLS Players Union to sort out.

After seeing the SuperDraft just take place and the advent of Homegrown players and MLS academies, will the college game still be a big part of the league and Orlando’s future?

In the short-term it will be. I don’t know where it goes down the road. It’s just another mechanism to get good players, so I think right now it will always be something that’s around. For us, we have to look at all mechanisms to make our team better.

So getting players from the college game will be key for Orlando now and in the future?

It is just another mechanism to help out team be successful.

source:
Source: Orlando City SC

The potential rivalry with Miami and/or Atlanta franchise in MLS, is that something that excites you? Something similar to the Pacific Northwest happening in the Southeast?

It would be great. The Cascadia Cup is great for that region, and I hope that Miami and Atlanta come in and we can have good rivals and people that we can beat all the time.

How important is it that the team not only build for MLS, but has another successful season in USL PRO before making the jump?

It is really important because we’ve done so well in the last couple of years. Building a culture of winning is very important, to keep building on the foundations. Why not win another championship? It will keep the culture going and get more fans involved and get ready for MLS.

Are there any MLS expansion clubs you want to emulate? Is there a team you look at and say, ‘they’ve done it right’?

You have to take the good and bad from what clubs have done in the past. Some clubs have done very well with very different strategies. Not  expansion clubs, but the likes of Psorting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake have done very in how they’ve managed their team. The environment in Portland is fantastic and they’re doing a good job at what they’re doing now. Those clubs have done really well.

Your job is to recruit the players, but how exciting is it to be involved in this project where you can see the fanbase growing in Orlando and build a club off a clean slate?

It’s great and very exciting. When the opportunity came up, you really didn’t have to think too hard about getting involved with something special. It’s exciting.

Finally, can you paint a picture of what you’d like Orlando to be like in five years time?

Selling out every game. Winning championships. And it would be nice to compete on the international scene.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ 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 15 ]

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 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

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

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]