The MLS All-Star Game is now in the rearview mirror as the league gets ready to kick off the second half of the season this weekend.
The MLS took the exhibition game in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw against the Liga MX All-Stars.
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner, who starred for the USMNT in the Gold Cup, was the hero as he saved twice in the shootout while a third Mexico kick sailed into the stands.
The second half of the season kicks off with three derbies on Friday. Among the early highlights are a Hell is Real Derby between Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati plus the Florida Derby as Orlando City SC host Inter Miami FC. The third Friday game is the Canadian Classique with Toronto FC travelling to CF Montreal.
Inter Miami take confidence to Orlando
The Florida Derby is on ESPN on Friday night and Inter Miami head north playing the best soccer in their two-year existence. Phil Neville's side picked up a convincing 3-1 win over Toronto FC last weekend and are finally a legit playoff contender in the East.
These teams drew 1-1 in Miami earlier this month after Orlando won at home 2-1 in June. All six matches they have contested in the MLS have been decided by one goal or less, and neither team has posted a clean sheet against the other.
Rodolfo Pizarro has been the key to Miami's resurgence. The designated player scored twice against Toronto FC and has three goals in his last two games. He is 17/2 to score first in this game and 16/5 to score any time with Planet Sport Bet.
Meanwhile, Miami are looking for their first-ever three-game winning streak and they have scored six goals in total in their last two games.
Having Pizarro finally hit form has come at the same time as Neville switching to a 3-4-3 formation. Bringing in Kieran Gibbs and Indiana Vassilev from England, along with goalkeeper Nick Marsman from the Netherlands, has been key as well. In the 3-4-3, Pizarro flanks striker Gonzalo Higuain with Robbie Robinson on the other side, and those three have enabled Miami's attack to stretch the opposing defences over the last month.
According to Planet Sport Bet, Inter Miami are 10/3 to keep their win streak going on Friday night. Orlando City are 3/4, with the draw at 14/5.
El Trafico always a headline grabber
This weekend's tilt doesn't have the Zlatan/Carlos Vela duel of days gone by, but El Trafico is never short on headlines. It's a new rivalry with LAFC's addition to the MLS, but there is no love lost on the pitch or in the stands when the Black and Gold face the big-name LA Galaxy.
Chicharito has been sidelined since early July with a calf injury, but he was present during the All-Star festivities in Los Angeles this week. Speaking on the national broadcast, the Mexican striker said he is very close to returning and admitted both he and the team are being cautious as he suffered a similar injury in 2020.
Chicharito has missed 11 games and LAFC's Vela also missed the All-Star Game after suffering an injury last week. If neither can play this weekend, a likely proposition, the nationally televised game loses a bit of lustre. However, this won't matter much to the fans as they look to grab bragging rights in Los Angeles.
The Galaxy scored a 2-1 win over LAFC back in May when both players were healthy. LAFC also boast Diego Rossi while Kevin Cabral has stepped up to score some big goals in the absence of Chicharito. Jonathan dos Santos has star power for the Galaxy.