Preview — Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, better known as Inter Miami, will finally play their first MLS home game Saturday night when they meet in-state rival Orlando City SC in Inter Miami Stadium in Fort Lauderdale (8 p.m., Unimas nationally).
It won’t be the home opener everyone anticipated back in March, as the club readied to take on the LA Galaxy before the global COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to soccer — and so much else in life — just three days before the game. The game will be played behind closed doors, in front of club staff, media, and cardboard cutout fans only.
In this era of rapid MLS expansion and thriving, organic soccer cultures that vary from city to city, it’s tough to stomach the idea of the first MLS game in South Florida in nearly 20 years being played in a stadium of echoes. But sports are helping slowly claw the world back from the brink in the pandemic, and while the building won’t be full of throaty fans donned in pink and black, for their part, Inter Miami’s players and staff are energized to give the South Florida community something to cheer about.
“We’re very excited to resume the season and see it as a great opportunity to keep fighting for our dreams,” manager Diego Alonso told the media this week.
“We are a few steps away from where we want to be,” Alonso acknowledged.
But the team feels it is close.
New additions help bolster Inter Miami
The addition of former Atlanta United stalwart Leandro Gonzalez Pirez buoys the already strong spine of the team and the signing of French World Cup champion Blaise Matuidi from Italian giant Juventus finally gives the team a connecting bite in midfield beyond the outstanding Rodolfo Pizarro. Matuidi won’t be able to play Saturday, due to COVID-19 protocols, but the team is excited to have him and ready to play. A veteran forward is expected to be signed shortly, with all eyes on Peru’s Jefferson Farfán, a good footballing and cultural fit.
That all spells excitement for what may lay around the bend.
“It’s going to be great to be back on the field and start what, in a mind-blowing way, is the third part of our season,” team captain Luis Robles told the media in a Zoom call earlier this week. “It’s not the home opener we envisioned, to be sure. That day will come to fruition though. We’ll miss the fans, we’ll even miss you all (media). Until everyone is there and it’s rocking full of fans who waited a long time (for the debut), it’s not going to be the same.”
But the different atmosphere doesn’t change the urgency, winger Lewis Morgan added.
“We feel an obligation to go out there and get three points. Building a fortress at home is always the goal. That’s where you get the majority of your points in this sport,” Morgan said. “But we’ve been through a lot and this community has been a lot and we want to go out and get that first win and give the fans something to be proud about and remember.”
Eyeing the first victory in Inter Miami history
To grab the first win in club history, Inter Miami will need to topple one of the surprise stories in the entire soccer universe in 2020 in Oscar Pareja’s Orlando City. Buoyed by the Pareja hire, some refreshing young playmakers and a rejuvenated and fiercely competitive star in Portugal’s Nani, the Lions stunned the MLS world by not only winning a difficult group at the MLS Is Back Tournament last month, but by reaching the final, where they fell to Portland.
Orlando’s deep run tournament featured standout performances from not just Nani but young winger Chris Mueller and electrifying fullback Ruan, showed that under Pareja, Orlando City aren’t content to be losers anymore. It also featured the first “Florida Man Derby” (a far more sensible nickname than Tropic Thunder, though I admit that “The Hot Mess”, from the all-things Florida Soccer Twitter feed route1soccer is solid), which Orlando won on a late bit of magic from Nani.
That game helped Miami earn Pareja and Orlando’s respect, the Lions manager said this week.
“Miami is a team who has been evolving for sure. It’s a new franchise with a new coach and what we learned from the tournament is that they have players with a lot of intensity and they have an idea, under Diego, of how they want to play. It was a good game, and we’ll look at some stuff from that prior game, but it’s a new day and a new game and we’ll need to prepare well.”
Final Thoughts ahead of Miami vs. Orlando
The truth is, Inter Miami hasn’t been too far away. The dominated D.C. United for large stretches before a dubious red card changed the game. They went toe-to-toe with the league’s best team, LAFC, on opening day, and were deprived a point only because Carlos Vela is magic.
The Herons also clearly played well enough to earn points in multiple matches at MLS Is Back, outworking the Union only to be snake bit on a pair of vicious counters and looking the part of the better side for much of their effort against Orlando. The club have only really looked lost once — in their MLS Is Back finale against NYCFC — and even in that match, they played one terrific half before falling off a cliff.
A win is coming.
Will it be Saturday night?