Why Connor Bedard can fix the Blackhawks, plus the oral history of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s incredible rise

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

The NHL is back on center stage in the sports world tonight with the 2023 NHL Draft getting underway. And much like the NBA Draft last week, there’s a no-doubt grand prize going No. 1. The Blackhawks will select Connor Bedard with hopes of him pulling the historic franchise out of a half-decade’s worth of struggles.

The 17-year-old star’s resume suggests he’ll be able to do just that. Our Austin Nivison stacked up Bedard’s credentials with recent top draft picks, and even the 2023 Hart Trophy winner barely competes:

Nivison: “Connor McDavid was the definition of a generational prospect. He had the size, speed, production and intangibles necessary to succeed at the NHL level, and he has delivered on the goods… The fact that Bedard has the statistics and the accolades to match McDavid only makes him more tantalizing to NHL scouts. … No matter how you slice it, Bedard is in rare air in terms of his pre-draft resume.”
The Blackhawks also supported Bedard by adding Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno in a trade with the Bruins. That hasn’t been the only big pre-draft movement.

Tyler Toffoli is headed from the Flames to the Devils.
The Kings acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Jets.
The Avalanche dealt Alex Newhook to the Canadiens.
Kevin Hayes is going from the Flyers to the Blues.
The draft starts tonight at 7 p.m.

Honorable mentions
Dolphins-Chiefs tickets in Germany sold out in 15 minutes.
Leonard Fournette somehow avoided injury after his car caught on fire.
Julio Urías is expected to return this weekend.
The 2023-24 NHL schedule is out.
Not so honorable mentions
If things go more haywire for the Mets than they already have, Max Scherzer would consider waiving his no-trade clause for the “right situation.”
Josh Jacobs could miss the start of training camp if he doesn’t get a new deal.
Shakira Austin’s hip injury is a big setback for the Mystics.
Former Arkansas, NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett dies at 35 🏈
Ryan Mallett died Tuesday in an apparent drowning in Florida, per reports. He was 35 years old.

Mallett was a highly touted recruit who chose Michigan in 2007 and played one year there before transferring to Arkansas.
Mallett starred for the Razorbacks in 2009 and 2010, setting program single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2010 that still stand today.
The Patriots drafted Mallett in the third round in 2011, and he also spent time with the Texans and Ravens. His last year in the NFL was 2017.
In 2022, Mallett became head football coach at White Hall High School in White Hall, Arkansas.
Oral history of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s incredible rise 🏀
Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2013 NBA Draft
Getty Images
Ten years and one day ago, the Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett first overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. It was a stunning choice that didn’t work out — Bennett was out of the league by 2017 — and in a draft full of uncertainty, the guys after Bennett proved hit-or-miss as well.

At 15th overall, the Bucks took a little-known, long-limbed teenager from Greece named Giannis Antetokounmpo. The rest — two MVPs, an NBA championship and much more — is decorated history still in the making. To look back on a decade of Giannis, our Jack Maloney assembled an outstanding oral history of Antetokounmpo’s rise to stardom. Here’s one of my favorite parts:

Jrue Holiday: “He got hurt in the [2021] conference finals against Atlanta and that first practice back, our first Finals practice — it was the day before the game and it was the first time we were seeing him practice — he was going like 150 miles an hour. And we were like, ‘OK, slow the f— down, man. We just got you back and we’re gonna need you to play tomorrow.'”
This is a really fun piece featuring quotes from Antetokounmpo, his teammates, his coaches and plenty of opponents such as LeBron James and Draymond Green. Be sure to read it.

Who will go No. 1 in MLB Draft? Pirates have SEC, high school options ⚾
Getty Images
With the college baseball season officially over and the MLB Draft approaching, the Pirates are on the clock. It’s a huge opportunity for a team that has shown some positive signs but still needs a lot of help.

Lucky for them, our R.J. Anderson has five potential options for the Buccos, and three of them were in the College World Series Finals: LSU pitcher Paul Skenes, LSU outfielder Dylan Crew and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford. You’ve probably seen those names before — in this very newsletter, in fact — but R.J. says there are two other names from the high school ranks that could be in play:

Anderson: “3. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick HS (NC): Jenkins appears to be the industry’s preference among the high-school outfielders because of his more certain offensive projections. 4. Max Clark, CF, Franklin Community HS (IN): Often compared to Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. Clark is a surefire center fielder with legitimate offensive upside thanks to a fast bat and wheels.”
We can go on and on about the prospects — R.J. has full scouting reports for the top 30 — but what’s important to remember is it’s not just about the player. It’s about the team’s approach, too:

Anderson: “There are, essentially, two strategies forward for the Pirates. The first is to take the best player available. That would be Crews, provided Pittsburgh’s front office and scouting department share the overall industry’s evaluation. The other strategy, which arguably should be employed only when there’s not a clear-cut No. 1 player in the class, is the same portfolio approach that has been popularized by the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles. Essentially, it involves the team taking the “cheapest” of the top tier of players, and then redirecting their savings toward players who slip over signability concerns.”
You can see R.J.’s full thoughts here and Mike Axisa’s latest mock here.

NFL’s top 25 players 25 or younger: Offensive superstars on top 🏈
Claire Komarek, CBS Sports
Ah, to be young and at the top of your sport. Our Cody Benjamin ranked the 25 best NFL players 25 or younger, and it’s riddled with stars that make me excited about the league’s present and future (what doesn’t make me excited is that, at 26, I’m older than everyone on this list for the first time ever. But we don’t have to get into that).

Coming in first among the young stars — and I don’t think it’s any debate — is…

Benjamin: “1. Justin Jefferson — Jefferson’s off to the best start by any receiver in NFL history, elevating his annual yardage total from 1,400 to 1,616 to 1,809 with ease. He’s not invincible, but he’s been close to it, working almost every secondary he’s faced with smooth, speedy route-running and a knack for clutch big plays.”
Jefferson landed fifth on this list last year, so his superstardom was already well established. But the No. 2 player this year didn’t make last year’s list whatsoever.

Benjamin: “2. Jalen Hurts — In three seasons, Hurts has gone from scrambler to serviceable to bona-fide star under center, and truthfully, he’s been getting better every year since the start of college. Always respected for his unshakeable resolve and work ethic, the QB unleashed vastly improved downfield touch and accuracy en route to the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance.”
Hurts’ impressive jump also got me thinking about which player could make a similar leap from outside the top 25 this year to high on the list next year, and I’m going with Christian Watson. From Weeks 10-18 last year, only three qualifying wide receivers — Davante Adams, Jerry Jeudy and Jefferson — recorded a higher yards per target. Watson is a big play waiting to happen, and I have high hopes.

Tennessee State University will become first HBCU to offer NCAA ice hockey

Ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee State University has announced that it will become the first HBCU to introduce college hockey. TSU’s ice hockey program was formed through a partnership with the NHL, the NHLPA, and the Nashville Predators.

Whether TSU will get a men’s hockey team, women’s hockey team, or both still remains to be seen. A more formal announcement is expected prior to the start of the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena.

This is another step from the NHL and the NHLPA in attempting to reach more players and fans from diverse backgrounds. On Tuesday, the league announced the creation of the Player Inclusion Coalition (PIC), which is a collection of 20 former NHL and women’s professional hockey players “who will work to advance equality and inclusion in the sport of hockey.”

Former NHL players Anson Carter and P.K. Subban are the co-chairs of the organization, Carter said the group wants to create positive change for “underrepresented groups” within the game.

“Every member of the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition shares a passion to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront of the hockey community. It has been incredible to work together to amplify the role of Players as advisors, ambassadors, and catalysts for real change, which benefits underrepresented groups in the game,” Carter said in a statement. “As we enter the coalition’s next phase, we are excited to grow our impact by sharing more of our work with fans to invite everyone who loves hockey to join the movement with us.”

The NHL and NHLPA have set aside $1 million for the PIC to begin its efforts in making hockey a more inclusive sport.

Devils sign star forward Timo Meier to eight-year, $70.4 million contract

The New Jersey Devils announced that they have signed star forward Timo Meier to an eight-year contract worth a total of $70.4 million. Meier was set to become a restricted free agent, but the two sides agreed to a long-term deal prior to July 1.

Meier, who was acquired by the Devils from the San Jose Sharks prior to the 2023 trade deadline, is coming off a career-year in which he scored 40 goals. In his 21 regular season games with New Jersey last year, he scored nine goals in 21 games, and he added four points in 11 playoff games.

Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said the franchise is excited to keep Meier around as it builds toward its goal of winning another Stanley Cup.

“We were excited to acquire Timo at the deadline, but it’s an even greater feeling knowing that he’ll be here for the next eight seasons,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Timo’s unique blend of style of play, goal-scoring ability, and physical presence will prove valuable for us. In talking with him, Timo realized, and I always believed, that this is the right place for him as a player and a person. We’ve locked up another piece of our young core that is looking to take that next step together for greater success.”

Meier was the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and he blossomed into a star with the Sharks. In just his third NHL season, Meier scored 30 goals, and he has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league ever since. In his 472 career games, Meier has totaled 163 goals and 167 assists for 330 points.

Now that Meier is signed for the foreseeable future, New Jersey boasts one of the best forward groups in the NHL. The Devils already had Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier under contract through the 2026-27 season, but Fitzgerald has been busy loading up with more elite talent.

Just one day before the Devils signed Meier, they acquired winger Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames. Toffoli is coming off a 34-goal season, and he gives head coach Lindy Ruff yet another weapon up front.

Croatian C Zvonimir Ivisic commits as injured Wildcats add 7-footer to roster

Kentucky basketball had both a brilliant offseason and a terrible offseason, one marred by injuries to big men while in the process looking like a well-constructed team in winning a gold medal earlier this summer at the GLOBL JAM. John Calipari and his staff addressed the former to sustain momentum of the latter on Tuesday, landing a commitment from Croatian big man Zvonimir Ivisic to give UK a key piece of size and depth for its frontcourt in 2023-24.

“I got the offer for a scholarship by Coach Calipari to attend the University of Kentucky,” Ivisic announced on social media. “I’m excited to tell that I accepted the scholarship and will play there next season.”

He chose Kentucky over reported interest from Memphis.

Ivisic is a 7-foot-1, 220-pound center who profiles as a do-it-all big capable of playing both inside and out. On the FIBA circuit this summer in the U20s, he shot 74.1% from 2-point range and 34.4% from 3-point range on 32 total attempts across seven games. He also added 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Kentucky was smacked with the injury bug to its frontcourt repeatedly this offseason with five-star freshman Aaron Bradshaw and second-year breakout candidate Ugonna Onyenso both sustaining lower body injuries that required surgery. Bradshaw’s injury forced UK to go out and add Tre Mitchell from West Virginia out of the portal, and Onyenso’s injury during the GLOBL JAM trip prompted UK to again add to its ranks with both he and Bradshaw out indefinitely.

Kentucky was the biggest riser in Gary Parrish’s most recent Top 25 (And 1) rankings of the offseason, jumping eight spots after landing Mitchell and sitting comfortably in the top 25 at No. 17. With Ivisic and Mitchell in tow to complement the hopeful returns of Bradshaw and Onyenso, UK should have enough size to buttress a guard-heavy roster led by five-star newcomers Justin Edwards and DJ Wagner, who figure to be key pieces for the Wildcats this season.

Logan Storley batters Brennan Ward for bounce-back TKO victory

After losing the Bellator welterweight championship to Yaroslav Amosov in February, Logan Storley was looking to make a statement when he faced Brennan Ward in the Bellator 298 main event on Friday night. Storley delivered that statement in emphatic fashion, dominating Ward on the ground before scoring a TKO in the second round.

Ward connected well with his left hand early in the fight, forcing Storley into an early takedown attempt. However, Ward scored a big early victory by threatening a choke to allow him to scramble back to standing and show that he was prepared to grapple with the former champion.

Ward stuffed another takedown and connected with clean punches until Storley was able to counter a Ward scramble to fully secure his first meaningful takedown of the fight. Storley didn’t do much from top position in the opening round, mostly maintaining control for nearly three minutes and landing short punches to the body until the end of the frame.

The second round was a near copy of the first the same except for Storley showing a much more vicious streak when he finally took the Ward down.

Logan Storley gets his 9th knockout victory! @storleystorm#Bellator298 is LIVE on @Showtime! pic.twitter.com/VkHWzT4SQF

— SHOWTIME SPORTS (@SHOsports) August 12, 2023
Ward again opened the round tagging Storley with hard jabs and the occasional uppercut or straight. Storley was clearly outclassed on the feet, but his wrestling was the deciding factor in the fight. Once Ward allowed Storley to get inside, Storley dipped and scored the double-leg takedown.

Storley threw his ground and pound strikes with more intention in the second round, using his shots to advance in position and land heavy elbows and punches. Ward survived a few flurries before Storley was able to pour on enough damage that referee Jason Herzog jumped in to call a halt to the bout.

Storley entered the fight as the No. 1 ranked welterweight in the official Bellator rankings. The victory advanced Storley’s career record to 15-2, with the losses both coming to Yaroslav Amosov, the most recent of which ended Storley’s brief run as interim champion.

Storley said he still is looking at getting a third crack at Amosov and a chance to regain the championship.

“We have to see how the division kind of unfolds,” Storley said after his win. “My goal was to go 2-0 after the Amosov fight and get my belt back.”

Lionel Messi comes to CBS Sports Golazo Network in U.S. Open Cup semifinals as Inter Miami face FC Cincinnati

Hello! The soccer calendar is delivering a handful of high-stakes matchups to keep us busy midweek, from Champions League qualifiers to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals (which you can watch for free on the CBS Sports Golazo Network). The latter includes the latest installment of Messi Mania, in which Inter Miami play at FC Cincinnati for a spot in their second tournament final this season. I’m Pardeep Cattry with your Messi-themed updates, as well as other stories from the world of soccer.

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📺 Footy fix
All times U.S./Eastern

Wednesday, Aug. 23
🇪🇺 Conference League: Hibernian vs. Aston Villa, 12:45 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+
🇪🇺 Champions League: Molde vs. Galatasaray, 3 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+
🇺🇸 Open Cup: FC Cincinnati vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Golazo Network
🇺🇸 Open Cup: Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Golazo Network
🇲🇽 Liga MX: America vs. Nexaca, 9 p.m. ➡️ TUDN
🇺🇸 MLS: LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids, 10:30 p.m. ➡️ Apple TV+

Thursday, Aug. 24
🇪🇺 Conference League: Fenerbahce vs. Twente, 1 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+
🇪🇺 Europa League: Ludogorets vs. Ajax, 2 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+

⚽ The Forward Line
Messi’s silverware pursuit continues

CBS Sports Golazo Network
It may still be early days in Lionel Messi’s tenure at Inter Miami, but the star is in the midst of perhaps the club’s most important week ever. Miami lifted their first trophy on Saturday when they won the Leagues Cup and will have the chance to get closer to another piece of silverware tonight with a matchup against FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

Messi has started six of the seven games he’s played so far for Miami and scored 10 goals in the process, boosting his credentials as the world’s most undroppable player. The match in Cincinnati is only Miami’s second of three games this week, though, with Messi’s MLS debut at the New York Red Bulls looming. As Chuck Booth writes, it forces the question: How many minutes are too many minutes for the 36-year-old Messi?

Booth: “He has also logged 564 minutes in just under a month. They are playing their third game in only eight days with another one around the corner against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, seeing the Herons travel from Nashville to Cincinnati and then to Harrison. … ‘We said that at some point he would have to rest because of the load of minutes played,’ [Miami head coach Tata] Martino said on Monday. ‘Clearly, Wednesday is not going to be that day. If he does not tell me he wants to rest, he will continue to play.'”
For more on managing Messi’s minutes, Felipe Cardenas also stopped by Box to Box to talk about when Messi could possibly take a break.

As Martino kicks the rotation can down the road, the expectation will once again be on Messi to lead Miami to another victory. Cincinnati, meanwhile, will have the chance to find out if a tired Messi packs the same punch as a well-rested one. The winner awaits the winner of the Houston Dynamo’s encounter with Real Salt Lake, which takes place later tonight.

Paramount+ will also have extra coverage of Miami’s trip to Cincinnati with a Star Cam that will follow Messi’s movement all night.

Sponsored by Paramount+
Sponsored by Paramount+
🔗 Midfield Link Play
Messi’s Miami goals, ranked

True to form, Messi has scored a handful of highlight-reel worthy goals during his early days in Miami. Booth ranked his 10 strikes so far, with some of his best strikes coming on major occasions. Coming in at number two was his most recent goal, which came from distance against Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup final.

It was hard to outshine Messi’s first goal for Miami in his debut, which ranks as his best goal so far. As Booth noted, the goal from a free kick was more than just a stunning strike; it marked a very memorable moment that is hard to top.

Booth: “For a goal to truly be number one not only does it need to be a beautiful goal but it also needs to be a goal scored where the stakes were high. It doesn’t become much more of a pressure cooker to win a game for your team in your debut but Messi’s arrival has felt like a movie and when the opening scene is this good, it’ll be pretty hard to top.”
Here are some more headlines from around the soccer world.

🔗 Spain federation president Luis Rubiales is facing calls to resign after he forcibly kissed Jennifer Hermoso during the trophy ceremony at the Women’s World Cup.
🔗 James Benge provides the latest on the Folarin Balogun transfer saga, in which Monaco are the leading candidate to sign the U.S. men’s national team forward.
🔗 Christian Pulisic kicked off his AC Milan stint with a goal on his debut.
🔗 Sandra Herrera ranked the top 10 moments from the Women’s World Cup.
🔗 Benge also writes about Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah after his strong performance against Crystal Palace on Monday.
🔗 Pep Guardiola will miss the next two games for Manchester City after undergoing emergency back surgery.
🔗 Felipe Cardenas stops by Morning Footy to preview the Open Cup semifinal between Cincinnai and Miami, while the rest of the team chats Houston vs. RSL.
🔗 The Morning Footy team look back at Messi’s storied career and provide their predictions for FC Cincinnati vs. Inter Miami.
🔗 Attacking Third covers the rapid growth of women’s soccer in Spain over the last several years.
🔗 The Attacking Third team also praised Spain’s midfield as essential to the team’s World Cup victory.
🔗 Morning Footy recaps Lindsey Horan’s criticism of the U.S. women’s national team coaching staff’s decisions at the World Cup.
🔗 Box to Box talks Christian Pulisic’s hot start in Serie A.
🔗 The Attacking Third team picks their standout player of the World Cup and their favorite moments of the tournament.
🔗 Christian Unkel reviews the penalty decision during the World Cup final with Attacking Third.
🔗 Morning Footy also covers Sergino Dest’s move to PSV and his search for playing time.
🔗 Morning Footy also looks at Jude Bellingham’s first two games with Real Madrid.
🔗 Houston head coach Ben Olsen sits down for a chat on Box to Box.
🔗 In Soccer We Trust previews the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

💰 The Back Line
💵 Best bets

Champions League: Molde vs. Galatasaray, Wednesday, 3 p.m.
💰 THE PICK: Only one team to score (+110) — The Turkish side are the oddsmakers’ favorites to advance, so expect this to be a one-sided affair where only Galatasaray gets on the scoresheet and qualify for the Champions League group stage.
U.S. Open Cup: FC Cincinnati vs. Inter Miami, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
💰 THE PICK: Three goals scored in the game (+295) — Inter Miami games are never dull when Messi’s on the field. While the star is expected to score yet again on Wednesday, Cincinnati might have their chances against a team that played many of their starters just a few days earlier.

Stream 2023 U.S. Open Cup on CBS Sports Golazo Network

Familiar foes Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake will square off in the 2023 U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday on the CBS Golazo Network. The Dynamo are hosting Wednesday’s match and coming off of a 5-0 home win against the Portland Timbers. Meanwhile, RSL have been on a two-week hiatus after falling 5-0 to LAFC on the road on Aug. 8.

Houston are the +109 favorites (risk $100 to win $104) in the latest Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake odds, while RSL are +210 underdogs. A draw returns +225 on the 90-minute money line. The over/under for total goals is 2.5. Kickoff from Shell Energy Stadium in Houston is at 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. You can stream Houston vs. Salt Lake City on the CBS Sports Golazo Network.

The CBS Sports Golazo Network is a first-of-its-kind free, 24-hour streaming network in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to global soccer coverage. CBS Sports Golazo Network is available to stream free on connected TV and mobile devices through the CBS Sports App and Pluto TV and on CBSSports.com, as well as on Paramount+. Click here to stream.

How to watch Salt Lake vs. Houston
Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake date: Wednesday, August 23
Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake live stream: CBS Sports Golazo Network
What you need to know about Houston
The Dynamo will be playing on shorter rest than Salt Lake, who were booted from the Leagues Cup two weeks ago. They should be full of confidence, however, after their big home win against the Timbers which saw five different players find the back of the net.

Houston also benefit greatly from playing in front of their home crowd. They have eight wins, two draws and two losses through 12 games at Shell Energy Stadium this season. Stream the match here.

What you need to know about Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake were unbeaten in nine straight MLS matches, which is what helped them move up to third in the league table. They had also been a strong road team prior to being clean-sheeted by LAFC two weeks ago.

RSL have the advantage of being well-rested for Wednesday’s match since they haven’t played since Aug. 8. They also have a leg-up since they are unbeaten in their last 11 matches against Houston. Stream the match here.

How to watch, live stream Houston vs. Salt Lake in the 2023 U.S. Open Cup
SportsLine soccer expert Martin Green’s best bet for this matchup is a halftime draw at +115 odds. Five of the last seven matches between these teams have ended in a draw and there have been three consecutive 0-0 finishes at Shell Energy Stadium. “Fourteen of Houston’s 24 games this season have been all-square at the break, so the odds on a draw at half-time in this game also look attractive.” See more analysis here.

Inter Miami vs. FC Cincinnati U.S. Open Cup, how to watch online, odds, time

After winning their first final in club history by defeating Nashville SC in Leagues Cup, Inter Miami can book their place in another final Wednesday when they face FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on CBS Sports Golazo Network. While Cincinnati have been the best team in Major League Soccer, leading the Supporters’ Shield race, things have changed quickly since the arrival of one Lionel Messi in America. Along with Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, he has shifted Inter Miami into being contenders for every honor in the league, which will make this quite the match at TQL Stadium.

Despite Miami’s dominance, the number of games on their legs could give Cincinnati an advantage if they can strike quickly. Brandon Vazquez and Luciano Acosta are among the best attackers in the league and could give Inter Miami’s defense some serious trouble. On Saturday it took a 10-9 shootout for Messi and company to lift the Leagues Cup trophy, and they faced a semifinal before that that was more difficult than it seemed. Sure they won 4-1 over Philadelphia, but the Union held the team to five total shots.

It’s true that Messi has steamrolled the Major League soccer teams he’s played against, but on the whole the better MLS sides have been able to hang in there against Miami, and it’s taken some inspired work by keeper Drake Callendar (the man who also scored the Leagues Cup winning penalty) to keep Miami from leaking goals at the other end. The question is whether Cincinnati can take advantage.