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MLS: Five things we learned

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The second day of the 2020 Major League Soccer season was just as enticing as opening day, featuring thrilling goals, a handful of debuts and a late winner.

[ MORE: Vela, LAFC spoil Inter Miami’s MLS debut]

This is what we learned from Sunday’s action:

1) Carlos Vela is the league’s best player, and it’s not even close

Many players, coaches and followers of the league are already onboard with this idea: Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS. He is, and it’s not even close. And if one still had their doubts about the rationale, the Mexican attacker, who turned 31 on Sunday, scored one of his best goals in the league thus far:

These next-level sequences are routine for Vela. Sure, Alejandro Pozuelo quickly assembled a highlight reel of his own in his first season in the league in 2019, but the consistency from the Spaniard pales in comparison. The Cancun native is cut from a different cloth. And, if you ask Bob Bradley, he’d probably tell you that it’s an exclusive cloth.

“I have been a coach for many years and I have been fortunate to train a select group of special players,” Bradley said following Sunday’s game. “Carlos Vela is on that list with Hristo Stoitchkov and Mohamed Salah.”

2) Lucas Zelarayan fits like a glove in Columbus

Lucas Zelarayan’s arrival to the Crew didn’t get the airtime it deserved, but after his debut on Sunday, oblivious onlookers got their first taste of the Argentine’s nifty skills.

In Mexico, Zelarayan got the short end of the stick at Tigres, who boast one of Western Hemisphere’s most lucrative rosters, accumulating more time on the bench, or in club suites than on the field towards the tail-end of his stay. That may never happen under Caleb Porter’s watch, giving Zelarayan the chance to engrave his name into MVP conversation list this season. 

3) Inter Miami didn’t look all that great, offensively 

It’s totally fair game to summon the “it was the first game ever for Inter Miami” one-liner when taking a defensive posture in an anti-Inter Miami debate.

The fact that they made their MLS debut, however, doesn’t save them from being analyzed – for better or for worse. They have both feet in the arena and are fair game.

That said, they didn’t have a productive game on the attacking end.

Rodolfo Pizarro, the player that was purchased for a reported $12 million from Liga MX’s Monterrey, fell really short of the hype surrounding his league debut. The 26-year-old Mexican ended the night with two shots on target, two more than his teammate Robbie Robinson, who offered little goal-scoring threat up top. Matias Pellegrini, too, proposed little from the left flank and was subbed off in the 79th minute.

There’s no doubt that Diego Alonso will eventually figure it out in Miami. After all, David Beckham and company set him up with a decent roster, but don’t be surprised if Inter goes through a long session of growing pains.

4) Atlanta United need a proven striker to fill in for Josef Martinez

On Sunday, Atlanta United revealed that their goal king Josef Martinez tore his ACL against Nashville SC. 

The injury is, undeniably, a major blow to the Five Stripes. To make matters worse, at the moment, Frank De Boer has only one healthy striker to chose from in Adam Jahn. Jahn put together a praiseworthy season with USL Championship side Phoenix Rising in 2019, but has shown the opposite in over 100 MLS appearances.

Luckily, de Boer mentioned the possibility of signing an emergency striker. Atlanta needs to exercise that option, but they can’t afford to execute it mindlessly. In other words, if one wants to fill in the void left by a goal-scoring machine, one needs to do so with a goal-scoring machine.

With the primary transfer window not closing until May 7, the Five Stripes won’t be in a time crunch, but they will have more time to get the ideal signing down (or not). Carlos Bocanegra has done well on player recruitment, but perhaps this is his biggest challenge yet.

5) Jordan Morris needs to start for Sounders moving forward

Like any other coach in a similar situation, Brian Schmetzer had his tactical reasons to start Miguel Ibarra over Jordan Morris. It’s completely understandable.

Moving forward, though, Schmetzer won’t have any reasons to do the same. Morris, who scored two goals off the bench for the Seattle Sounders, handed the defending champions a prized victory over a new-look Chicago Fire, solidifying his place in Seattle’s starting lineup for the pair of weeks to come.

As pointed out by MLS analyst Matt Doyle, Morris, since June 23, has recorded 17 goals and 14 assists for club and country. Morris should be far removed from bench treatment. It’s pretty simple.

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.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ] 

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.

Rodolfo Pizarro scores Inter Miami’s first goal in debut

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Rodolfo Pizarro is yet to be introduced as Inter Miami’s second Designated Player, but that didn’t hold him back from scoring on his (unofficial) debut with the MLS newcomers.

After receiving a short, well-placed pass from teammate Lee Nguyen, the recently-turned 26-year-old made a couple of jabbing maneuvers inside the box before slotting the ball between the legs of Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The goal, which was Miami’s first official goal in club history, came two minutes after the Mexican took the field in the 31st minute at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday.

The crafty midfielder arrived in Miami on Thursday following a reported $12-million move from Liga MX side Monterrey. On Friday, Pizarro began training at Inter’s brand-new training facilities in Fort Lauderdale.

Inter Miami, which is co-owned by David Beckham and makes its league debut on March 1 against LAFC, has yet to announce the signing of the Mexican national team capped attacking midfield.

Regardless of that, Pizarro is already proving his worth in Florida.

Beckham, Neymar ‘agree’ to Inter Miami transfer

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David Beckham and Neymar have been discussing an Inter Miami transfer for the Brazilian superstar and they aren’t being coy about it at all.

That’s because they’ve both admitted it won’t happen for quite a long time. The main thing here to remember is that they both want it to happen, so bookmark this page and share it when Neymar arrives in MLS at Inter Miami in 2030.

Speaking on a video posted by YouTube channel Legends on Legends via Otro, Becks and Neymar sit down for a lovely chat and the new MLS side fronted by Beckham and his ownership group, who enter the league in 2020, obviously came up.

“America has a huge opportunity because they have many other sports that are the number one, two or three sport. Soccer, now, is growing very quickly and I think it’s a real opportunity for America to have great players there. So I’m going to get you to sign a piece of paper after. A blank piece of paper. It’s going to be a contract for Miami, for ten years’ time. We’re not going to pay much,” Beckham laughed.

Neymar joined in with the banter but on a more serious note revealed he wants to sign for Inter Miami and all Beckham has to do is give him a call to get it going in the future.

“Deal. Deal. I was the one who asked to play for his team. I want to. I told him already. I told him I will play there one day,” Neymar said. “No, but I believe it is a great opportunity for the country to grow its soccer. As I said before, I already have my contract with David. A few years from now, I will be there. We’re in this together. He is my president.”

So, that’s that sorted then. There is a little tongue in cheek with this chat between Beckham and Neymar but there’s obviously a connection there and this could happen.

Neymar is currently 28 years old so I predict that in less than eight years time we will see him ripping it up in MLS with Inter Miami.

The Brazilian superstar will certainly be interested in Miami’s lifestyle and this transfer is one which makes sense for everyone, as long as Inter Miami can get the right financial package together to entice Neymar to MLS.

South Florida officials seeking more international soccer

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) More than two dozen political leaders in South Florida have written letters to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors, urging them to allow top-tier international matches to take place in the Miami region.

Relevent Sports, the soccer-promoting group owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, filed suit against the USSF earlier this year saying that the sport’s governing body in this country was helping to prevent them from hosting certain matches.

The letters were released Friday to media outlets, including The Associated Press.

The USSF did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross’ group and top Spanish league La Liga have been working for some time to bring a regular-season match to Hard Rock Stadium, the facility Ross owns and is the Dolphins’ home.

The politicians – ranging from city mayors, county mayors, county commissioners and one state Senator – all essentially said the same thing, that bringing major international soccer to South Florida only will help the region’s tourist-dependent economy.

“Doing so will demonstrate a genuine commitment to our communities and the growth of the game, which you, as the United States Soccer Federation, are charged with promoting,” wrote Dean Trantalis, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale. That’s the city where David Beckham’s new MLS team, Inter Miami, will begin play next March.