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The Inter Miami Preview, Part II

This week I've seen a lot of talk about who should be in our starting XI. This comes about due to the team's success over the past two weeks with, quite frankly, a surprising XI. Most of the consternation centers around McNeill over Bender and Reyna/Jóźwiak over Shinyashiki. I'll start with the latter and say that I would much prefer Shinyashiki over Reyna while keeping Jóźwiak. I know Kamil is causing a lot of angst over his lack of end product, but I'm of the opinion that he's still playing well in other areas. Further, he simply has more potential than Reyna and when the end product is similar--it's not like Reyna is scoring a lot or assisting--I will take potential.

The McNeill/Bender situation is more complex and maybe a little more divisive. Some of the issues I see:

  • Bender has been a fan favorite since the beginning of the year. Being the #1 overall pick for an expansion side will do that. American fanbases love #1 overall picks.

  • Bender has shown real glimpses of quality. I'm in the minority in thinking that his impact has been a bit exaggerated and that his reputation doesn't always match the results, however, I don't deny the talent he has and I do believe he's played well for a rookie.

  • The calls for McNeill remind me very much of the calls for Bender initially, meaning, he had a good showing, and then fans were convinced he needed to be starting. I'm simultaneously a fan of potential while also being conservative with young players. I understand this is a contradictory stance to take. Too often, though, people get carried away with one or two good performances and then use that data to supersede months or years' worth of data for other players.

  • Two straight wins with the same XI naturally leads to calls of "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it." In some ways, I support this stance, but we should acknowledge there is a danger to it. Repeating the starting XI from Houston on Saturday was the correct choice simply because a first road win deserves to be rewarded. The danger lies in believing prior performance will lead to the same results. There is a very real argument that could be made that, while it "ain't broke," it also "ain't correct." What I mean is: would the substitution of Bender (or Shinyashiki) lead to the same results or is there something beneficial to starting McNeil (and Reyna).

First, my opinion is that Bender has been so productive over the past two games because he is coming off the bench. I equate this to a sixth man in basketball. Bender's best qualities (carrying the ball, incisive passing in the final third) work well against tired legs. Couple that with Lattanzio bringing on fresh attackers and fullbacks and you have a recipe for success. Of course, Bender's best qualities are great to have from the first minute of the game, but I'm not convinced he has shown the ability to consistently produce as a starter.

Second, I'm curious if there is something to the balance of the team, and specifically the midfield, when it comes to McNeill and Bender. This is a bit more complicated to assess, mostly due to the small sample size we're working with. For McNeill, I'm only going to be looking at the past two games (Houston and Nashville) because the only other game he has appeared in is the Montréal game which, due to COVID protocols, was a mess/outlier of a game. For Bender, I'll look at his last two starts along with the past two games.


Let's start with who has joined them in a starting lineup.

CLB vs. CLT, 6/18, via MLS
CLB vs. CLT, 6/18, via MLS

I find MLS's version of the lineups to be interesting. Watching on TV, I thought we were in a 4-3-3, but that's not what MLS has. They have us in a 4-1-4-1 a lot. At the end of the day, a 4-1-4-1 isn't too different from a 4-3-3 and players are taking up similar positions. I also don't know if there's much of a difference between our setup in a 4-1-4-1 vs. a 4-4-1-1. I would need to go back and watch the games to see (or better yet, have StillnessSpeed's input), but the basic point is we're playing 3 midfielders regardless of what you call the formation. The backline in all 4 of these games is pretty much the same, with the exception of Mora vs. Columbus due to Fuchs' injury.

In Bender's two starts, he played alongside Ortíz and Bronico. Meanwhile, McNeill has started alongside Bronico and Ruiz. These are very different players in my opinion, at least when you talk about stylistic and tactical approaches.

CLT vs. ATX, 6/30, via MLS
CLT vs. ATX, 6/30, via MLS

I'm going to broad stroke these midfielders into categories such as a "10," an "8", or a "6." In the modern game, these roles aren't as rigid as they were in the past, but they can act as a starting point in helping us understand roles. For me, a 10 is a true attacker whose primary responsibility in a side should be to create and score goals. Defensive duties are secondary. I think about players like (prime) Mesut Özil or Francesco Totti. An 8 is a box-to-box type who supports the defense but also gets forward and can chip in goals/assists. Players like Aaron Ramsey or Frank Lampard (excuse me while I vomit at having complimented Lampard...) come to mind. A 6 is a defensive player who should build up from deep, have good distribution, and provide excellent defensive cover. You can look to players like Sergio Busquets or Fernandinho. Again, we're doing broad strokes here with no nuance.

So how do Charlotte's midfielders fit into these categories? I would argue that Ortíz is a 10 and Bronico is a 6. Ruiz is an 8 to me. That's not a groundbreaking statement. Ruiz isn't particularly adept in defense, but he is better and more active than Ortíz. The more I see of Bender, the more I believe he's a 10, not an 8. He's at his best in the spaces closer to an opponent's goal, especially in situations when he's able to stay up the pitch and receive passes to start breaks and attacks. The further into the middle and defensive parts of the pitch he is, the less effective he is.

HOU vs. CLT, 7/3, via MLS
HOU vs. CLT, 7/3, via MLS

So Ben has been paired with a 6 and a 10, while McNeill is being paired with a 6 and an 8. The question now is: what is McNeill?

With only a total of 162 minutes on the season, it's far too soon to make definitive judgments. This is where guesswork and projection come into play, but my initial thoughts are he looks like an 8.

If we accept these categories for these players (and some of you understandably may not), I don't know that starting Bender with Ruiz and Bronico is the same as a Ruiz-Bronico-McNeill midfield in terms of team balance.

The other factor in this discussion is who is starting in the attack and how those players impact the balance of the team. Ríos and Świderski are vastly different strikers, for example. As we've been seeing with Świderski, he wants to drop deep and help with link-up play. His technical ability on the ball and his passing enables him to do this effectively. Ríos, meanwhile, is more of a traditional 9, in that his strength lies in hold-up play and staying farther up the pitch. Jóźwiak, Reyna, Shinyashiki, and Gaines are all very different wingers as well (although Jóźwiak and Gaines' styles of play are probably most similar).

CLT vs. NSH, 7/9, via MLS
CLT vs. NSH, 7/9, via MLS

What I'm getting at here is that if you're fielding a striker like Ríos, players like Ortíz and Bender make a lot more sense. You need their technical qualities and linking play in the side (although I'm not convinced you need or should have both because of some of their defensive liabilities). If you're playing Świderski, he's going to provide a lot of what Bender and Ortíz provide. Having all 3 of them is overkill and having 2 might be redundant (at least in a back 4; let's ignore the implications of a back 3/5 for right now).

This last point--that Bender provides qualities already in the side with an attacking trio of Reyna-Świderski-Jóźwiak, but doesn't provide enough midfield structure and support--is going to be the crux of my argument and where fans of Bender, and the team in general, will probably push back. They may not be wrong.

Some will contend that Bender is capable of playing as an 8 and doing the job McNeill is doing. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The bigger question is should he be doing that role? Is that the best way to utilize his strengths? Or is playing him in that role just an excuse to get him in the side?

There are some players who you force into a side because their quality is too much not to have them play. I will be very clear here: Bender has not proven he is at that level yet and this is a point I will not concede. There are few players in the world, or MLS, who are undroppable. He's not one of them yet. I very much hope he becomes one, but until that happens the balance of the team takes priority.


Below are the heatmaps for Bender and McNeill for 2022. Again, a small sample size warning is present for McNeill, and Bender's map is very much impacted by his time spent on the wing. Even though Bender's map reflects his deployment as a winger, it also reflects his preference for drifting out into those spaces, even when he's not specifically started there. So far McNeill plays in more central spaces.

Bender heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap 2022, via SofaScore

What do the heatmaps look like when we look at specific games? First up are Bender's last two starts.

Bender heatmap vs. CLB, 6/18, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap vs. CLB, 6/18, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap vs. ATX, 6/30, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap vs. ATX, 6/30, via SofaScore

Against Columbus, he's more central, with a bit of a right-side bias. Against Austin it's a bit more of his usual role, meaning, he's drifting out to the left a lot. Considering Shinyashiki's penchant for drifting inside, this isn't surprising.

Now, comparing McNeill and Bender's heatmaps is a bit unfair and tricky. For one, McNeill played 60 minutes to Bender's 30. Secondly, they played different roles. MLS has us going to a 4-4-2 to end the game, but I'm of the opinion we were in a 5-3-2 or 5-2-3, depending on how you want to position players.

Bender heatmap vs. HOU, 7/3, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap vs. HOU, 7/3, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap vs. HOU, 7/3, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap vs. HOU, 7/3, via SofaScore

Against Nashville, the same problems arise. McNeill played 79 minutes and Bender only got in for 11. This time MLS has Charlotte going to a 5-3-2 to end the game, which is probably correct. The point is when Bender is playing, he's coming in as part of a more defensive formation and his offensive/technical qualities are needed to counterbalance the defensive players we're deploying.

Quick note: MLS isn't always trustworthy because they have Bronico ending the Nashville game as a CB with Fuchs remaining as LB. I think we would all agree Fuchs is playing as a LCB with Mora as a LB/LWB.

Bender heatmap vs. NSH, 7/9, via SofaScore
Bender heatmap vs. NSH, 7/9, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap vs. NSH, 7/9, via SofaScore
McNeill heatmap vs. NSH, 7/9, via SofaScore

I don't think we can draw any definitive conclusions from these maps, however, I do think we can start to get an idea of the role McNeill plays. McNeill is playing centrally and acts as a link between Bronico and the attack. With McNeill in the side, Ruiz becomes more of the offensive threat from midfield (and he's been doing that well). McNeill looks to be more conservative moving forward when compared with Bender. Bender shines when he can drift into space in wide areas and make forward runs. These are not like-for-like players.

Bender did play centrally versus Columbus in a similar way to McNeill, but, for what it's worth, that was his lowest-rated game of the past 5 according to SofaScore. Bender's last 5 game ratings according to SofaScore look like this: 7.2, 6.3, 6.6, 6.6, and 8.1. McNeill's two starts are both 6.6. These scores are not gospel, but I think they show that Bender isn't consistently having exceptional games.

Bender's cameo against Nashville was hugely effective, but two things are of note for me.

  • First, and most importantly, Bender is coming on when Nashville is pushing for a goal. Naturally, some defensive structure is given up by them when doing this, and Nashville is not built for that.

  • Second, I know the score sheet has him at 2 assists and fair play for that, but his second "assist" is because Andre has terrific feet and had a great finish. Bender's pass is not what creates that goal and I don't think there is anything wrong with acknowledging there are different "tiers" of assists. He was hugely impactful when he came on but his xA for the game was only 0.38 according to MLS and 0.5 according to FBref.

This all makes me sound like a hater against Bender, but I promise I'm not trying to be. I just think context around his performance(s) is necessary.


Another way to view the difference between McNeill and Bender is to look at MLS's chalkboard. Below are Bender's actions over his past two starts.

Bender's event chart vs. CLB, via MLS.
Bender's distribution chart vs. CLB, via MLS. Charlotte going right to left.
Bender's event chart vs. ATX, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.
Bender's distribution chart vs. ATX, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.

Both of these charts show something similar to the heatmaps: Bender tends to drift to the left. Compare these to McNeill's charts over his two starts.

McNeill's event chart vs. HOU, via MLS. Charlotte going right to left.
McNeill's distribution chart vs. HOU, via MLS. Charlotte going right to left.
McNeill's event chart vs. NSH, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.
McNeill's distribution chart vs. NSH, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.

These distribution charts help us see the spaces McNeill is taking up when compared to the heatmap (the heatmap is lacking because of his overall lack of playing time). The difference is stark between him and Bender when we look at these. The fanbase sees these two players as competing with each other for a spot, and there is truth to that, but how they play the game isn't the same. I don't think it's as simple as putting Bender in for McNeill. Bender's inclusion, I think, would necessitate other changes, either in the midfield or attack.

Just for completion's sake, here are Bender's charts for the past two games, remembering that he's playing fewer minutes and in a different setup. His tendency to take up wide spaces is still present (although interestingly it was on the right side versus Nashville).

Bender's distribution chart vs. HOU, via MLS. Charlotte going right to left.
Bender's distribution chart vs. HOU, via MLS. Charlotte going right to left.
Bender's distribution chart vs. NSH, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.
Bender's distribution chart vs. NSH, via MLS. Charlotte going left to right.

Note: I was following a discussion about Świderski on Twitter when I was reminded about this function. There are a lot of resources out there for analyzing games and it's hard to always keep them straight, but Charlotte's community is tapped into all of them. Shoutout to @vipollman for the reminder.


Below are Bender's percentile ranks versus midfielders over the past 365 days for pass types, GCAs/SCAs, and possession. I want to reiterate a point I've made before: percentiles are good indicators of performance, but they are not the end-all, especially when dealing with a player new to professional soccer or a league. Bender has 19 career MLS appearances. Personally, I will be putting more stock into these percentiles next year, but there is enough data for them to be relevant right now.

Bender pass type percentiles, via FBref
Bender pass type percentiles, via FBref

Those passing numbers aren't great. Some may argue it's unfair to compare him to midfielders, and that's not an unreasonable statement. I would prefer the option to compare him to midfielders and/or attacking midfielders/wingers, but, unfortunately, FBref hasn't done that yet. At the same time, my argument has been he's not an 8, but rather a 10. If he were an 8, he would be compared to midfielders. The above numbers don't make a great case that he is a capable 8.

Bender GCA and SCA percentiles, via FBref
Bender GCA and SCA percentiles, via FBref

This is where Bender shines. Again, I'd be curious to know how comparing him to an AM/winger would affect these--my assumption is that it would harm him--but he shows real ability in contributing to the attack. This is especially interesting considering his poor passing numbers.

Bender possession percentiles, via FBref
Bender possession percentiles, via FBref

The possession percentiles highlight some more of his strengths (receiving progressive passes, touches in the attacking 3rd, and carrying ability) and introduce some areas where he needs real improvement.

What worries me about his profile is the miscontrol and dispossessed numbers. These are concerning in general but doubly so if you want to argue he should be played as an 8. My point about him doing better higher up the pitch is partly because his strengths make him dangerous in those areas, but also because when he does make errors in possession, they aren't as close to his own goal.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't complain if Bender replaced McNeill in the lineup, however, I'm not convinced that McNeill has done anything to lose his spot or that Ben has done enough to push him out. It's important to say that McNeill also hasn't nailed down his spot. Competition isn't a bad thing in a squad and if it pushes Bender, McNeill, or any other player to greater heights, the whole club benefits. Games are also just one factor in who starts, albeit the most important. Things like fitness and performance in practice contribute to these decisions and we as fans aren't privy to those aspects.

Ben Bender should play. He's proven he can be a real contributor to the team right now and he is a building block for the future. The only way he gets better is if he plays more. With that said, I don't know that his role right now (i.e., a game-changer off the bench) is inappropriate. Being a significant role player as a 21-year-old in your first professional season for a club vying for a playoff spot isn't an insult.




Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)





23 (24.1)

24 (25.2)

26 (7th in East)

6.55 (6.82)

Inter Miami




19 (22.8)

29 (26.7)

22 (11th in East)

6.52 (6.80)

Miami vs. DAL, 7/4, via MLS
Miami vs. DAL, 7/4, via MLS

Miami has taken 12 points over 9 games (3-3-3) since they came to Charlotte back in May. They have some good wins (2-0 over RBNY, 2-1 over Minnesota) over this time, but they continue to concede goals at a good rate. They are good at home, though with a record of 5-3-2. Their losses are to LAFC, Philadelphia, and Houston. The first two aren't surprising losses, while they'll wish they had that Houston game back.

The first preview of Miami can be found here if you want a more in-depth look at the roster. My focus today will be on just a few players: Leonardo Campana, Bryce Duke, and Drake Callender.


Overall, Inter is pretty healthy. According to the MLS Availability Report, only Robbie Robinson (winger, hamstring) is out. Transfermarkt has Ian Fray (CB, ACL) listed as out. Blaise Matuidi continues to be paid by Miami to not play.

Miami vs. ORL, 7/9, via MLS
Miami vs. ORL, 7/9, via MLS

They do have a new addition to the team in Alejandro Pozuelo, who they traded for when the summer window opened. Pozuelo hasn't yet made an appearance for them and transfermarkt has him listed as out due to visa issues. Pozuelo spent 3.5 seasons with Toronto where he scored 26 goals and had 24 assists in 88 appearances for Toronto. His first two seasons were hugely productive as he had 21 goals and 16 assists in 53 appearances. Last year wasn't great (1 goal, 4 assists), but he's bounced back this year (4 goals and 4 assists). I'm not sure about his availability for this game, but if he is available, he will be an impactful addition.


Against Charlotte the first time around, Miami played in a 4-2-3-1. Over the past 3 games, they've only been in that formation once. They were in a 3-4-3 against Dallas (7/4), a 3-4-2-1 against Orlando (7/9), and a 4-2-3-1 against Philadelphia (7/13).

Miami vs. PHI, 7/13, via MLS
Miami vs. PHI, 7/13, via MLS

Lucas Campana

Campana got off to a blistering start this year, netting 5 goals in 9 appearances. He's cooled off, but still has a solid 8 goals (and 1 assist) in 19 appearances. He does only have 1 goal since the beginning of June and that was when he came on as a substitute.

He only had 8 career goals coming into this year, so the dropoff is probably not unexpected. The question Miami is probably trying to answer right now: is Campana the player he was through the first two months or the player he has been over the last two months?

Campana is a low-touch forward (31st percentile for touches) over the past 365 days. Oddly, he's in the 92nd percentile for touches in the defensive third, but only the 16th percentile (!!!) for touches in the attacking 3rd and 45th percentile for touches in the penalty box. It's an interesting profile because while you like the fact that he helps out defensively, you want your striker to be involved in the game in the opponent's area rather than your own.

Campana heatmap before first Charlotte game (5/7), via SofaScore
Campana heatmap before first Charlotte game (5/7), via SofaScore

He doesn't attempt a lot of passes (36th percentile), however, when he does his completion percentage is good (89th percentile). He's very good with his short passing (92nd percentile for short pass completion percentage), though again he doesn't attempt a ton (32nd percentile for short passes attempted). It's a similar story with medium passing: 81st percentile for medium pass percentage completion, but only 29th percentile for medium passes attempted. When it comes to long passing though, he's got a solid range (74th percentile for long passing completion percentage) and is attempting a good number of them (66th percentile for long passes attempted).

Campana heatmap before second Charlotte game (7/16), via SofaScore
Campana heatmap before second Charlotte game (7/16), via SofaScore

Campana's heatmap has not changed much as the year has gone on; he's just solidifying the positions that he takes up. Above is the heatmap before the first meeting with Charlotte. To the right is where he's at currently. There's a definite right-sided bias to his map. As a left-footed player (though only 65% left-footed according to FBref), this isn't a surprise. Drifting out to the right will allow him to come back onto his primary foot. The heatmap also shows how much he'll drop to help out defensively.

While he favors drifting into the right side of midfield, the maps do show he will go out wide into left-hand spaces as well. He's a player who moves a lot, so all of our defenders will have to make sure they're tracking his movement.

Duke heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Duke heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Bryce Duke

Duke is having a bit of a breakout year for Miami. He's in his first year with Miami having joined from LAFC. He was a member of the RSL academy from 2016-2018 and was traded to Miami this year. He's already doubled his career MLS starts this year, as he has 10 (14 total appearances). So far this year he's got a goal and 2 assists.

I am curious if Miami's acquisition of Pozuelo is to replace Duke or to work alongside him. FBref has Duke playing as a CM, RW, DM, LW, and AM at different points in the year. His last two starts, based on MLS's lineups, look like he's playing as an AM. With his flexibility, though, my assumption is Miami will pair him with Pozuelo in the midfield.

Duke shooting percentiles over the past 365 days, via FBref
Duke shooting percentiles over the past 365 days vs. AM/wingers, via FBref

In fact, when looking at Duke's heatmap and percentiles, the acquisition of Pozuelo makes more sense. Pozuelo is a goal scorer and contributor from the 10 spot, while Duke hasn't shown that ability at any point in his career. With LAFC, he never scored a goal or had an assist (26 appearances, 5 starts). He did have a goal and 3 assists for LV Lights FC in the USL Championship over 12 appearances, so there may be more end product in his game. At only 21, there is still time. In the immediate, though, Miami needs more goal scoring and creation from that position. I wouldn't be surprised to see Duke play a bit deeper in the midfield once Pozuelo becomes available.

It looks like he'll be capable of doing that too. His passing numbers, especially for a 21-year-old, are really solid. I'm impressed by his 77th percentile for passes attempted, which shows he's involved in the game even at a young age. I will note these passing numbers (and the shooting numbers) change when comparing him to midfielders (the passing percentiles are worse, while the shooting ones are better), but I don't follow Miami well enough to say whether he should be compared to AM/wingers or midfielders.

Duke passing percentiles over the past 365 days vs. AM/wingers, via FBref.
Duke passing percentiles over the past 365 days vs. AM/wingers, via FBref.

His progressive passes are of note, too. He's in the 89th percentile for progressive passes, regardless of whether he's being compared to midfielders or AM/wingers. His key passes and passes into the penalty area are solid regardless of comparison. Again, it's not surprising that they want a more established professional in Pozuelo, but Duke's performance this year is showing a lot of promise for the future.

Drake Callender

Going into the first meeting, Miami had played several keepers. As I said at the time,

Miami has had 3 of their 4 goalkeepers start for them this year: Nick Marsman, Clément Diop, and Drake Callender. Marsman has made the most starts with 5, followed by Diop with 3, and Callender with 1. Callender started in their 3-1 loss to Cincinnati. Diop started the first 3 games of the year. Marsman has started the past 5. All of these keepers have allowed a lot of goals: Marsman (8), Diop (7), and Callender (3). Marsman was their starter all of last year and was injured to begin this year.

Callender has established himself as the starter since this time. Diop hasn't played since March and Marsman hasn't since April.

Callender is young for a goalkeeper at only 24. He's a big man at 6'3" and 187 pounds. Over his 11 starts, he's allowed 14 goals, which is good for a 1.27 GA90. This is vastly superior to Marsman's GA90 of 1.60 and Diop's GA90 of 2.33. It's also important to note that Callender allowed 3 goals in his first start. Since then, it's only 11 in 10 games, which is really solid. Advanced metrics show it's not a fluke either. His PSxG+/- of +3.7 shows a keeper who is above average in his shot-stopping. He's not facing the toughest of shots (0.29 PSxG/SoT, which is in the 40th percentile). However, as we've seen with many good goalkeepers: good shot-stopping numbers are often tied to good defense in front of the goalkeeper. Miami appears to have a legitimately good goalkeeper on their hands.


I don't think Charlotte should be afraid of Miami, especially with the away form the team has shown under Lattanzio. Miami is pretty good at home, but Charlotte beat Houston on the road who beat Miami on the road, so by the transitive property Charlotte has already won this match, right? That's how that works?

I'm willing for us to keep the same starting XI we have. If we were to make a change I would prefer it to be Reyna for Shinyashiki or Gaines. Based on how Lattanzio seems to be deploying Reyna, Gaines might actually make a bit more sense. Bronico is a no-brainer in midfield, but I think Ruiz's performance last match solidified his starting spot in this one.

I'm curious about the state of Corujo's hamstring. I've enjoyed the look of our backline of Fuchs-Walkes-Corujo-Afful. I did see Corujo messing about on the field after the game this past weekend, so I'm hoping his removal was more precautionary than anything. If he can't go, I wonder if we would see Fuchs moved inside with Mora starting at LB.

This run of games that Charlotte has will be decisive. Miami, Toronto, Columbus, DC, and Chicago are all very winnable games. Those first two are on the road, though, so that pushes them out of the "must win" for me and into "absolutely need a draw" territory. They are two good opportunities to get coveted away wins. Miami is good at home, but not unbeatable. I'm hopeful for a positive result.

Prediction: Miami 1 - Charlotte 2

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