Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – It came in a modular stadium of echoes, in Fort Lauderdale, 34 miles from the Melreese Golf Course in Miami that Club Internacional de Futbol Miami wants to call home, in a home opener played in the month of August, with the closest thing to fans the cardboard cutouts that lined the goal on the supporters end.
After a Long Journey, Inter Miami Finally Taste Victory
It came after an investor and ownership shakeup, more special press events than you can count, multiple proposed stadium sites, and endless political debates and hiccups seemingly straight out of a Carl Hiaasen novel– nearly 2,390 days after David Beckham informed MLS he would exercise his option to become an MLS franchise owner.
But it came nonetheless: the first win for Inter Miami, a 3-2 rollicking back and forth affair with Orlando City, the club’s MLS in Florida 2.0 expansion big brother to the north.
Call the natural rivalry game the Florida Man Derby, the Sunpassico, the Hot Mess– anything you’d like. Just don’t call Inter Miami, who lost their first five games, losers anymore.
The monkey is off the club’s back, and it came on a sweltering August in Fort Lauderdale night where despite the heat, the club that was David Beckham’s dream refused to wilt.
“I feel very happy. I am happy for the players, the owners, and above all the fans. We suffered, and had to wait a long time for it, but our players were rewarded for that suffering tonight.”
Inter Miami high line featured prominently in the first half, as Diego Alonso shifted formations to a 4-3-3 that saw Wil Trapp sit very deep in a midfield triangle, often interchanging and playing behind with newly minted Inter Miami signing and MLS All-Star Leandro González Pírez when the Herons were in possession.
Meanwhile, Óscar Pareja made the curious decision to shake up his starting lineup, the result being that without Chris Mueller, who was banged up in Orlando CIty’s run to the MLS is Back Tournament final, Uri Rosell was stationed on the flank for the game’s first half hour. Rosell was ineffective early and struggled to combine with the rest of the Orlando midfield, a group that looked so formidable at Disney World last month.
Orlando’s difficulties keeping the ball early played into the hands of Inter Miami’s high line, and the hosts took full advantage in the twelfth minute when a midfield turnover led to Rodolfo Pizarro moving downhill in space.
The Mexican international, who has been splendid for Inter Miami throughout this truly bizarre inaugural season, played a tidy ball through to young Argentine Julián Carranza, who slotted hard and low into the corner past MLS Is Back Tournament hero Pedro Gallese to give Inter Miami it’s first home goal in club history.
If you missed it or just want to see it again, here’s the first MLS goal scored at Inter Miami CF Stadium. 🏟
— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) August 23, 2020
The lead was short lived.
Moving the ball better after the goal, Orlando City came into the game and a looping ball over the top found young Daryl Dike, the Nigerian-American the Lions selected in the first round of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. After a beautiful shot from a difficult angle was saved well by Luis Robles, Dike calmly outmuscled Leandro González Pírez for the rebound and finished the job with his second effort, leaving the game at a goal apiece.
HIT THE WEIGHT ROOM LGP pic.twitter.com/Mvbmjzv7s7
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) August 23, 2020
Dike, who in addition to a clinical finish was terrific in other ways all evening, bullying defenders on the ball and winning 50-50 balls with ease, said he’ll remember the goal but lamented the result.
“It’s great to get the first goal. But I’d rather not get the first goal and win the game,” the rookie forward said after the game.
While Inter Miami so often wilted after conceding a goal at Disney last month, it took the Herons all of three minutes to respond Saturday night. After a strong build-up saw the ball find its way to Ben Sweat, the veteran defender played an inch-perfect cross to a surging Carranza, who finished well with a header at the back post.
The 2-1 lead was just the type of response Diego Alonso and his team had been lacking in previous games. Wil Trapp credited the extended break after MLS is Back for building the team’s chemistry and cohesiveness.
“The four weeks served us very well,” Wil Trapp said. “We got to play games. We built chemistry and you saw the fruits of our labor, being more together as a group tonight. The end result was we were a more complete team tonight, and it resulted in three points.”
Manager Diego Alonso agreed with the veteran midfielder.
“In truth, there wasn’t much difference between the game in Orlando and tonight. The biggest thing tonight is we were stronger, more complete a team and able to hang on defensively in the end.”
The goal from Carranza was also a signal of intent from the young Argentine forward on a night where the benefits of giving young players a chance to play, mature and shine was on display on both sides of the pitch. It wasn’t just the brace, though the Carranza goals were both lovely.
It was the way Carranza peeled defenders away with his off-ball movement to create space for teammates, and looked confident in his hold-up play, two important characteristics of a number 9 that Inter Miami had been lacking since MLS SuperDraft first round pick Robbie Robinson was injured in the spring and then forced to leave the MLS Bubble last month.
“I was very happy with (Carranza’s) performance,” Alonso said after the win. “For a striker to score is essential and he was able to do it. That is confidence and confidence is air for a striker. But we’re obviously pleased with his progress. He’s suffered and worked very hard.”
Carranza’s play opened things up for everyone else, forcing Orlando’s backline to respect Pizarro’s space and allowing, in turn, the Inter Miami midfield to play more actively both in space and when they won the ball with the press. It was an immense difference from a month ago, when Pizarro was often one on three with nowhere to go when Inter Miami won the ball.
Inter Miami almost certainly still need a proven, veteran forward, if for no other reason than to help their talented young duo mature. But if Carranza is going to make significant gains as August turns to autumn, that’s a huge deal for Inter Miami.
After giving up leads in two of their first give games, Inter Miami struck first in the second half, with a lovely piece of interplay from Pizarro with both fullbacks- first Sweat, who was sensational all night, and then Nicolas Figal.
The sequence ended with Pizarro making an expertly-timed late secondary run and finding himself unmarked on a looping cross which was headed into the center of the area. The Mexican star made no mistake, and his celebration, with a cardboard cutout decked out in the pink and black, was nearly as perfect as the run and finish.
Moments later, Pizarro nearly made it 4-1 for the home side, only to see a beautiful chip that froze Gallese denied by the far post. Nonetheless, it was a fast start to the second half for La Rosanegra, who had too often been outclassed after strong starts in the club’s first five games.
Inter Miami would rarely threaten after that, content to set up shop and try to see the game out in their final third.
Orlando pressed numbers forward, clawing and scratching to see if they could earn a result. But Inter Miami, the backline buoyed by the addition of Leandro González Pírez, held tight, wisely shuttling play wide and forcing Orlando to play low-probability crosses into swarms of white shirts.
It was a sign of what the steady Argentine all-star, so crucial to a MLS Cup winner in Atlanta, will offer the Herons when they play with the lead. That, coupled with a host of defensive-minded late substitutions, including the Inter Miami debut for journeyman Brek Shea, appeared to be precisely the type of pragmatic winning formula Diego Alonso has used at each of his prior coaching stops.
But in the 81st minute, out of nowhere, Orlando found a lifeline.
Nani doing what he does best! 🔥
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 23, 2020
Quiet all evening, Nani found his way past late sub Dylan Nealis and onto a deliciously placed Chris Mueller cross. From there, the Portuguese star put a header past Luis Robles to cut the lead to 3-2 and send Diego Alonso into a rage on the Herons sideline.
From there, however, Inter Miami’s resolve held out, with the club refusing to be denied a historic first victory.
That win number one came against budding rival Orlando made things even sweeter- and you could see what it meant to about 100 Inter Miami supporters from various supporters groups, who congregated in parking lots and on the streets just outside the gate waving flags, setting off smoke bombs and honking their horns well after the match ended.
Those fans, who couldn’t be in the building, of course, due to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are what this dream was all about and who this win was undoubtedly for. With win one down, only one thing is almost certain: there will be more wins to come.