Beckham’s Inter Miami finally ready to arrive

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This weekend Inter Miami CF will finally arrive in Major League Soccer.

Their much-anticipated MLS debut comes six years after David Beckham was awarded an expansion franchise in the Floridian city as his dream of owning a team is about to come true.

Good things come to those who wait, it seems.

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Over the past six years the wait has been excruciating for soccer fans in and around Miami as stadium plans have been held up, Beckham and his wealthy investors almost pulled the plug on the deal entirely and endless mocking from other MLS fanbases led to many calls for Becks to move his expansion franchise to another U.S. city, one where it was easier to realize his dream. But he wanted his team to be in Miami.

Now Inter Miami have arrived, even if they are playing their first few seasons in a temporary home in Fort Lauderdale, 30 miles north of Miami, Beckham has talked about wanting to sign Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar and there’s no doubt players of that caliber would love to play in South Florida in the future.

Beckham has always wanted to do this properly but the struggle has been very real when it comes to finding the correct parcels of land in Miami to build a soccer-specific stadium for his new team. That was something MLS always wanted to happen and still do.

The original award of an expansion franchise was way back in 2014 but between then and 2018 there were serious doubts that this team would ever come to fruition. MLS commissioner Don Garber demanded a soccer-specific stadium in downtown Miami but in a strange way the stadium struggles with other MLS franchises has helped out Miami. New York City FC are still playing at Yankee Stadium, which was supposed to be a temporary home. Atlanta United play in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium they share with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. Nashville arrive in MLS this season calling the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium their home for at least a couple of seasons.

And Miami’s battle for a place to call home, permanently, continues to rumble on.

It is safe to say Beckham’s bid hasn’t gone smoothly since the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star announced his intentions to host his cut-price MLS expansion side in MIA. As part of his playing contract with the Galaxy, which he signed back in 2007, he was allowed to purchase an MLS franchise for $25 million upon retirement from the game. The latest MLS expansion fee paid to place a team in Charlotte, North Carolina was over $300 million.

Aside from his love for the game, you can understand why he wanted to get this done.

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Several stadium sites have come and gone over the years as a potential downtown waterfront site was first knocked back and then a deal collapsed to build a stadium next door to MLB’s Miami Marlins as we broke the news about that being a long shot. The Overtown site looked a shoe-in to happen but local councillors voted against the stadium as Beckham was once again left exasperated.

In the 2018 event to unveil the franchise once again (four years after the first unveiling) Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure revealed he and Beckham were ready to throw in the towel after years of searching unsuccessfully for a stadium site in Miami. Then local construction magnates Jorge and Jose Mas stepped in to join the ownership group, along with Masayoshi Son, but so far numerous stadium plans have failed to be approved across downtown Miami and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Miami Freedom Park is their preferred location for a permanent 25,000 capacity home, and although that process is moving along, they still need a key city council vote to make the stadium close to Miami International Airport a reality, plus there have been some issues with the plot of land containing potentially hazardous materials. More delays are surely on the way. That has led to Beckham and Co. potentially revisiting their stadium plan in Overtown.

And on and on it goes.

Of course, Beckham’s Inter Miami will not walk out onto ‘home turf’ until Mar. 14 when they host his former club, the LA Galaxy, in their 18,000 capacity temporary home in Fort Lauderdale and that could well be their home for a lot longer than that.

The training facility they have built on the site of the former Lockhart Stadium — which was home to the only other MLS franchise in Miami, the Fusion, which lasted four seasons before folding in 2001 — is impressive and their temporary home will see its capacity reduced and used for Inter Miami’s reserve side when they finally find a home stadium closer to Miami.

Stadium struggles aside, their first-ever game as an MLS franchise at LAFC on Sunday marks a monumental achievement for Beckham and his ownership group. With Diego Alonso at the helm and plenty of ambitious, yet smart, signings, this team will be extremely interesting to watch in their debut MLS season.

The fanbase will be one of the most interesting to watch and with Beckham and eventually other big-name superstar players around, Inter Miami CF will always be a team to keep an eye on. Now that they are here.

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Many times over the last six years this day looked like it would never come. Scepticism from fans, the ownership group and league officials that Inter Miami CF would ever walk out onto the pitch as an MLS club was rife.

On Sunday a six-year struggle will come to an end and then no matter what happens on the pitch, or with a stadium plan or with whatever star names do or do not sign for Inter Miami CF in the future, Beckham can rest easy knowing he delivered what he set out to achieve.

Finally.

Southampton players first in Premier League to cut wages

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Southampton players have become the first in the Premier League to defer their wages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The South Coast club released a statement on Thursday confirming their players have reached an agreement to defer their wages for April, May and June to make sure non-playing staff at the club are paid in full.

Saints also confirmed they will not use the UK government’s job retention scheme to furlough staff and that directors, coaching staff and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl will also defer their wages “to help protect the future of the club, the staff that work within it and the community we serve.”

“Furthermore, the club can confirm that it will not use the government’s Job Retention Scheme during April, May and June. Our owners, Mr. Gao and Katharina Liebherr have put measures in place to ensure that all staff not deferring part of their salaries will continue to receive 100% of their pay, paid in the normal way until 30th June. Any decision on the future beyond this date will be made in advance of this, but only when more information is known.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) had previously stated that players should not take a 30 percent wage cut as that would impact the money paid to the UK government via taxes, while the PL players themselves have since announced the #PlayersTogether initiative which will see them donate funds to the NHS.

Other Premier League clubs have been heavily criticized for signing up for the job retention scheme which sees the UK government pay 80 of wages to staff who have been furloughed. Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth have signed up for that scheme, while Liverpool initially did then apologized and reversed their decision.

Premier League clubs are currently negotiating with their players about wage cuts and deferrals during the COVID-19 outbreak but many are yet to come to an agreement, as it is believed Saints’ players and staff will defer over 10 percent of their pay collectively.

Southampton have also been funding and delivering over 1,000 fresh meals per week to the most vulnerable people in the city of Southampton through their own charity, the Saints Foundation.

“Everyone at the club remains fully committed to the community we value so highly in Southampton. We will continue to offer our full support to the city of Southampton through the work of the Saints Foundation and provide any further assistance we can. We will continue to prepare our club for a return to the pitch and make sure that, when safe, we are ready to play and serve the people of Southampton again. Until then, We March On. Together.”

VOTE: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Our Premier League March Madness tournament enters the Final Four stage on Thursday with two very intriguing ties.

After a wild Elite Eight which saw Everton and Sheffield United upset Chelsea and Man City respectively, we have two wonderful Final Four games set up as 20 Premier League teams are now down to 16.

#1 Liverpool host #12 Everton as the Toffees have upset Man United and Chelsea to reach the Final Four. #7 Sheffield United and #6 Wolves go head-to-head for a spot in the final as they continue to excite neutrals. These encounters will be close.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Plus, our own Nick Mendola handicapped the field and here is who he thinks will be the favorites to win it all and if there will be more upsets late on. After all, this is the Premier League…

Okay, vote below (until 6:30 p.m. ET) for the two Final Four matches as our Premier League March Madness tournament continues!

Ronaldinho to leave jail for luxury hotel arrest in Paraguay

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Retired soccer star Ronaldinho was released from a high-security jail in Paraguay on Tuesday after more than a month, but was ordered to serve house arrest at a luxury hotel while he’s investigated for using a fake passport to enter the country.

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Ronaldinho, the Brazilian former FIFA player of the year, and his brother Roberto de Assis were also told to pay bail of $800,000 each.

Ronaldinho, who helped lead Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, was jailed on March 6 after entering the small South American country with a false Paraguayan passport. He told local authorities in a hearing that the document was a gift from a Brazilian businessman, Wilmondes Sousa Liria, who was also jailed.

“I decided to put them in house arrest because the investigation is now well advanced, differently from the situation one month ago,” Judge Gustavo Amarilla said when issuing the ruling.

Ronaldinho had his Brazilian passport seized at home due to an investigation into alleged environmental crimes, but the document was returned to him in September. One month later he played in a friendly in Israel.

If convicted, the former Barcelona star could spend up to five years in jail. Fourteen people are being investigated in the case.

Ronaldinho came to Paraguay to promote his autobiography. He was jailed in an improvised penitentiary in the south of Asunción, which is used for 150 dangerous criminals, including convicts of drug dealing, corruption and rape. During his stay he played soccer with inmates and took pictures with them that were shared on social media.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

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A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.