#FirstKick in MLS; a quickie history lesson about a league that almost wasn’t

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One day away from MLS first kick seems like the perfect time for a very quick Major League Soccer history lesson.

We recently passed a 10-year anniversary that no one around MLS really cared to celebrate. It was one everyone would simply prefer to forget.  “Just move along folks; nothing to see here.”

I wrote about this at a former blog. But since that is dead and buried*, here’s the essence: Major League Soccer was deadly close 10 years ago to closing down. Most supporters probably don’t know how close.

We were this close to watching domestic soccer devolve back to something that would have resembled the bad old days of the early 1990s, when professional soccer was truly reduced to outlier status. Back then there were indoor leagues and shards of pro soccer in a few markets, competing in what is now officially designated as the second-tier.  But if we’re being honest, to use baseball as an example, that’s more akin to AA or AAA than to “The Show.”

So thank goodness for MLS. Only, we almost didn’t have it.

Here, in a nutshell, is what MLS looked like 10 years ago:

The spiritual and cultural DNA of our country was changing in the weeks and months following 9/11.  And who knew what would come of the economy?

Major League Soccer had just reduced itself to 10 teams.  On Jan. 8, 2002, commissioner Don Garber and the league’s (tiny) board of directors made the painful decision to severe the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion. It was amputating a leg to save the man.

Remember, this was smack in the middle of massive financial suffering in MLS. The league lost $350 million between founding in 1996 and 2004. The hemorrhaging fell almost exclusively on just three major investors.

As such, there was real talk of folding the entire operation. It was a well-kept secret back then, but word has come out since that ceasing operations was a legitimate option on the table.

Contraction, painful though it was, and despite the obvious PR blow, was an essential part of the reconstruction plan.  The thinking went something like this: “We simply cannot go forward under status quo. We can shut down. And maybe we should.  Or we can push forward – but there must be changes, because this isn’t working.”

So a 10-team league slogged forward – and if we’re being honest, 10 teams is barely a league.

Conventional wisdom in many circles devolved into something like this: if MLS is hacking and whacking teams, down to such a puny sum of clubs, can the end be far behind?

That was just 10 years ago.

And yet, look where things have come from there: There are 19 teams now, and attendance keeps climbing steadily forward. Sellouts in Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and elsewhere are the norm.

This evolution is even more stunning: There was but one lone stadium 10 years ago built specifically for MLS back then. Now there are 14, with the latest coming on-line this year in Houston. TV contracts are providing reasonable revenue and still moving in the right direction. NBC Sports Network will air 38 regular-season games this year, while NBC shows three. Locally, the L.A. Galaxy’s new 10-year regional television deal with Time Warner, for a whopping $55 million, looks like a real game-changer.

No, things aren’t perfect.  But I sometimes bristle when I hear complaints about MLS operations, about budgets, about certain personalities at MLS headquarters. Not because they need defending, but because these things always need to rooting in context and just a little bit of historical understanding.

Personally, I look at domestic soccer and think it has settled into a pretty good place.

(* I wrote very close to the same thing on my old, personal blog. But since that thing was apparently terminated with extreme prejudice by the tech crunchers, with all evidence apparently scrubbed from existence, with no internet linkage possible, this post is a partially resurrected version.)

Leeds – Fulham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Leeds – Fulham: A battle between two Premier League new boys on Saturday (Watch live at 10am ET, online via Peacock) is the first top-flight game at Elland Road for over 16 years.

LEEDS – FULHAM STREAM LIVE

Marcelo Bielsa and Scott Parker both delivered promotion from the Championship last season and both were expected to, even though Bielsa is the revered master of coaching and Parker is only in his second full season as a head coach. These new boys have very different styles of play but ultimately they are both much better going forward than they are at the back.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Leeds – Fulham this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Leeds (INJURY REPORT)

Leeds could welcome back captain and center back Liam Cooper who is pushing back from injury, while Adam Forshaw will not be available.

Fulham could have a host of new players back ready, as Alphonse Areola, Kenny Tete, Mario Lemina and Antonee Robinson all made their Fulham debuts in the League Cup in midweek.


What they’re saying

Marcelo Bielsa on Leeds’ start to life back in the Premier League: “Every game is a new story. We will try to correct all the things we did badly against Liverpool and we will try to maintain all the good things. A positive performance always gives a certain amount of optimism and a defeat generates sadness. This week the two of those things combined. The season is very new and the adaptation of the new players is going to take a while, which is the same for everybody.”

Scott Parker on facing Leeds and if it will give him a better idea of where they’re at compared to playing v. Arsenal: “Yeah, definitely, [but] saying that, we want to be competitive in those games [too]. Every game we go into we want to be competitive and get something out of the game. Of course, this weekend we go to another promoted team, a team that won the division last year, very handsomely, who have spent a lot of money to improve the team even more. The challenge for us is we want to go in and try and get a result in this game, like we will do every game this year, so we’ll try and do that and plan accordingly to get a result.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Leeds (-160) are the heavy favorites but Fulham (+450) are worth a pop at these huge odds. The draw (+290) is intriguing as the bookies were obviously impressed by Leeds’ opening day display at Liverpool, but were they too impressed?

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

I’m going to go for a draw here. I know people are well on board the Leeds bandwagon, and rightly so, but I still think there’s a lot for them to improve on before they start pushing for a top 10 finish in the Premier League. Fulham were a bit unlucky with the first two goals in their opening day loss to Arsenal and if Aleksandar Mitrovic is fit to play, he will have plenty of joy up top. 2-2.


How to watch Leeds – Fulham stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Transfer news: Jota to Liverpool; Yedlin to Besiktas

Jota to Liverpool
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The transfer news just keeps on coming a Diogo Jota to Liverpool and DeAndre Yedlin to Besiktas are just a few of the deals developing.

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Let’s start in the north west of England.

Jota to Liverpool close?

Diogo Jota to Liverpool is moving fast, with a report from Sky Sport in Italy stating that talks are ongoing between the clubs and Jota’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is ironing out the details. It is claimed that Portuguese international Jota is close to agreeing a four-year contract at Liverpool.

A separate report from The Athletic states that Liverpool will pay Wolves over $45 million for Jota, 23, who has been incredibly consistent over the last two seasons in the Premier League.

This could be the extra winger Liverpool were looking for as they’ve been linked with Ismaila Sarr and are clearly looking for extra options to try and ease the burden on Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Why would Wolves let Jota leave? They have just signed Portuguese whizkid Fabio Silva and Nuno Espirito Santo did rotate Jota in and out of his lineup last season, as Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore were the main men in attack and the likes of Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence picked up regular minutes as the season progressed.

Jota has scored 44 goals in 116 appearances for Wolves as he joined them initially on loan from Atletico Madrid when they were in the Championship and was a key part of them getting promoted to the Premier League and then qualifying for the Europa League and sealing back-to-back seventh place finishes.

This signing, off the back of signing Thiago Alcantara, would be another big boost for Liverpool and could mean the likes of Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri or Takumi Minamino may be looking at loan moves away from Anfield this season.

USMNT right back Yedlin to leave Newcastle?

DeAndre Yedlin, 27, is said to be close to joining Turkish giants Besiktas on a free transfer.

Yedlin has one year left on his current contract at Newcastle United but became a squad player last season under Steve Bruce. It appears that will be the case once again this season and the USMNT defender is apparently heading to Turkey where he will link up with fellow U.S. international Tyler Boyd.

This would be a good move for Yedlin, who are currently in Europa League qualifying. The speedy right back has always been a threat out wide but his defending has sometimes been a little suspect, especially at the Premier League level.

A fresh start in Turkey would be interesting and with as host of MLS clubs said to be interested in the former Seattle Sounders star, maybe he will head home in a few years’ time?

Premier League odds, Prince-Wright’s picks: Week 2

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EPL betting odds for the Premier League Week 2 have been released but we know the bookies don’t always get it right and there is plenty of cash to be made up there.

Here are the latest Prince-Wright’s Premier League score predictions as the Premier League 2020-21 season is here and the EPL betting odds all over the place with new signings galore, some teams having more of a preseason than others and injuries already having an impact early in the season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

The Premier League score predictions below encompass the 10 games during Week 2 of the new season, as Manchester City and Manchester United both begin their season after being given an extended break over the summer following their European exploits.

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 with these Premier League games.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

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 long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Check out our Premier League score predictions below, plus the betting odds provided by our partner, PointsBet.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.


PREMIER LEAGUE PREDICTIONS

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Manchester United 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Arsenal 4-0 West Ham – (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-0 West Brom – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Newcastle 2-1 Brighton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Leicester 2-1 Burnley – (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Wolves 2-3 Man City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM


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

Leeds United 2-2 Fulham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Chelsea 3-3 Liverpool – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-1 Sheffield United – (Monday, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM


ODDS – full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet

Saturday, September 19: (-195) Everton v. West Brom (+540), Tie: +320
Saturday, September 19: (-160) Leeds v. Fulham (+450), Tie: +290
Saturday, September 19: (-325) Man United v. Crystal Palace (+850), Tie: +440
Saturday, September 19: (-195) Arsenal v. West Ham (+500), Tie: +340
Sunday, September 20: (+215) Southampton v. Tottenham (+130), Tie: +235
Sunday, September 20: (+160) Newcastle v. Brighton (+185), Tie: +210
Sunday, September 20: (+220) Chelsea v. Liverpool (+110), Tie: +270
Sunday, September 20: (-165) Leicester v. Burnley (+460), Tie: +290
Monday, September 21: (+170) Aston Villa v. Sheffield United (+170), Tie: +215
Monday, September 21: (+520) Wolves v. Man City (-195), Tie: +325

Thiago to Liverpool confirmed: How big of a deal is this?

Thiago to Liverpool
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Thiago to Liverpool has finally been confirmed as the worst kept secret in the transfer world has reached its end game with a transfer deal which could rise to $36 million reached.

What does Thiago Alcantara signing for Liverpool actually mean though?

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First up, Liverpool have themselves a ‘baller with a capital B who was influential in Bayern winning the treble and sealing the UEFA Champions League trophy in the 2019-20 season.

Thiago, 29, has been instrumental at Bayern Munich and is the deep-lying playmaker Liverpool didn’t have. Speaking about his arrival at Anfield, his excitement is clear and so is one other thing: he’s a born winner.

“I think it’s an amazing feeling. I was waiting for this moment for a long time and I am very, very happy to be here,” Thiago said. “When the years are passing, you are trying to win as much as you can – and when you win, you want to win more. I think this club describes what I am as well; I want to achieve all of the goals, win as many trophies as possible. It also [has] this kind of family [feeling] that I need because we [like to] have a very close relationship with the club and I think I will feel this, I will have this feeling, with this club as well.”

Thiago is exactly the type of signing Liverpool needed to make to back up their hopes of being back-to-back Premier League champions. That sound you can hear is Pep Guardiola’s heart breaking, as the current Manchester City boss brought Thiago from Barcelona to Bayern Munich in 2013 and knows how key of a cog he can be in this well-oiled Liverpool machine.

The Spanish international is exactly the type of player the reigning Premier League champions needed to reach the next level. He gives them that Plan B they haven’t previously had. If Thiago had played for Liverpool against Atletico Madrid in the 2019-20 season, they would not have lost that game. He would have slowed things down, picked passes to rip apart Atleti’s watertight midfield and defense.

His skills are special and will complement the hard-working players Liverpool primarily have in their midfield. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum were a formidable trio but the latter may now leave for Barcelona and both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have struggled with injuries. Thiago gives this Liverpool midfield a new dimension and his arrival likely means Fabinho and Henderson will line up alongside him in a three-man central midfield.

He will have to settle in, though, and playing in England and for Klopp’s Liverpool is very different to what he was used to at Bayern Munich. That said, he oozes class and will be given the license to dictate the tempo of Liverpool’s play and sit in alongside Fabinho and spray passes and snap into tackles. In many ways, just like at Bayern, his role will be to allow the full backs to attack. His presence will allow Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to bomb on just as Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich did at Bayern.

Simply put, he allows Liverpool to play a different way in comparison to their full-throttle, high-press style which isn’t always possible when teams sit back and defend deep. Now they have Thiago, Liverpool can do it all. If you sit back, Thiago can thread a ball through the eye of a needle to open up defenses. If you push up, one ball over the top will see Salah and Mane set free.

The son of a former World Cup winner with Brazil (Mazinho) who was born in Italy to Brazilian parents and made his name in Spain, Thiago Alcantara is a high quality player, professional and human. This signing is a big statement by Liverpool and for many, including myself, it means they are now the favorites to win the Premier League title this season ahead of Manchester City.

That is how big of a deal it is.