Orlando, Fla. — For the third time in two months, the battle for Sunshine State Supremacy played out on the pitch, this time on a muggy Saturday night at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. The rubber match of the Florida Man Derby, which was the first edition played in front of any fans, was captured by Orlando City, 2-1.
The Lions were led by Maurcio Pereyra, who forced an on-goal off a set piece and scored a clinical winner in the 69th minute. The defeat snapped a three-match unbeaten streak for Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami.
Inter Miami’s Juan Agudelo will remember the game as a missed opportunity, of course, but also as a chance to play in front of a number of Inter Miami’s fans, who braved the rain to make the trip despite the social distancing measures put in place at Exploria Stadium.
“Coming out for warmups you could hear our fans and seeing them be actually louder than their fans, it was great to be in front of our fans finally and to see how many of them made the trip. It reminded me of how things used to be, and that was amazing,” Agudelo said. “After the game, of course, we were disappointed, because we thought we should have taken something from this game. We felt we were the better team by the end, even with only two days rest. We had them on the back foot. Unfortunately, some calls didn’t go our way. That happens some days.”
The early stages were controlled by the hosts, who played largely in Inter Miami’s final third and whlse attacking triad of Chris Mueller, Pereyra and a once-again fit Nani looked dangerous, earning a handful of free kicks in dangerous positions.
The best early chance for the Herons came on the break, with Pizarro making a surging run and finding Lewis Morgan on the right flank. The winger, fresh off a brace against Atlanta United, played a gorgeous chip to the head of Robbie Robinson, only to see the young forward’s headed effort go begging. It was a rare promising moment for the visitor, who spent most the half holding the Lions at bay.
Lions keep up the intensity
However, the Lions kept pushing. In the 34th minute, they made good on one of the many dangerous set piece opportunities Inter Miami had been conceding. A perfect in-swinger of a cross from Pereyra found its way to the head of Andrés Felipe Reyes, who tried to clear only to meet the ball at a difficult angle and have it deflect goal-bound and past a helpless Luis Robles.
The goal marked the first time in three contests that Orlando City staked out a first half lead against Inter Miami; they spent the bulk of the first two contests chasing the game against their expansion neighbor from South Florida.
Orlando nearly added another goal in the 43rd minute, again off a free kick conceded from a dangerous position after Reyes chopped down a surging Daryl Dike. Nani’s ensuing free kick found its way through the wall, but wasn’t too much trouble for Robles, who parried the spinning ball away calmly to keep proceedings at 1-0 entering halftime. All told, it was as poor a half as Inter Miami had played in several games, with the only blessing being the slim Orlando lead.
Diego Alonso did shuffle his deck after halftime, bringing on two substitutions. But at least one of the changes was a puzzling one — bringing on Brek Shea for Mikey Ambrose, who had come on for an injured Ben Sweat in the game’s early moments. Taking a substitution off the pitch is taboo in football, as it functions to waste a substitution. But Alonso clearly felt his team needed a spark, and since signing Brek Shea two months ago the Uruguayan manager has trusted the MLS journeyman to provide it.
“In the second half we made a tactical adjustment. The change in shape helped the players play better. We also made substitutions. I think we adjusted well and I’m proud of how we played in the second half, which was much better,” Alonso said.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) September 13, 2020
Switches from Alonso, Inter Miami
The manager’s gamble worked.
Shifting formation to a 3-4-3 with the wingbacks pinching in to give the Herons numbers in the midfield zones, the visitors nearly leveled through Lewis Morgan, who took a lovely ball from Dylan Nealis and whipped goal-ward, only to be denied by a diving Pedro Gallese.
Orlando would threaten next, with Chris Mueller denied well by Robles after he was played through by Pereyra. The rebound was quickly played to Pizarro, who sliced a ball to a streaking Robbie Robinson in the space Mueller left behind down the left flank. The rookie forward deked Orlando City’s Ruan out of his shoes, playing a fantastic ball across to a streaking Agudelo, only to see the veteran forward miss entirely.
Inter Miami didn’t miss the next golden chance.
This time, after a set piece, Inter Miami collected possession and fed Pizarro, who had found some space deep on the right flank. Pizarro played an enticing ball to the center of the eighteen, where it was met at height by Shea, who launched a Thor’s hammer of a header past Gallese to level the game. It was just one highlight among many for Shea, who was brilliant off the bench.
“(Shea) was excellent after coming into the game. He provided a spark, as he has in other games, and along with the change of shape, he made a big difference,” Alonso said of the veteran following the game.
“It was great to score,” Shea said of the goal. “I’ve been out quite some time with an injury, so I’m happy to be here and help the team in any way I can. Obviously we’re frustrated with the result today, with how we played in the first half especially, but we’ll try to learn from it,” Shea said.
Unfortunately for Shea and Inter Miami, Orlando City responded to the equalizer almost immediately.
With Inter Miami caught with numbers forward, a midfield deflection found its way to Chris Mueller, who raced between the lines to beat two Herons defenders to the spot. Mueller played a terrific ball through contact across to a surging Pereyra, who found himself alone in space. The Uruguyan took his chance well, pinging the ball past Robles to put the Lions back ahead.
Chaos leads to a Lions victory
The frenetic end to end action wasn’t done.
Only minutes after the Pereyra goal, Brek Shea played a terrific slicing ball from the left flank across the face of goal to substitute Julian Carranza. The young Argentine was clipped down from behind by Rodrigo Schlegel, preventing Carranza from slotting home for a goal. A VAR review initially awarded a penalty to Carranza, as well as a second yellow card to Schlegel– only to have the whole sequence deemed offside upon further review. If it was offside, it appeared only just, but the video review preserved Orlando’s lead — and 11 on 11 soccer — by a paper thin margin.
The whole “VAR Giveth, VAR taketh away” moment conjured up pre-COVID memories of Inter Miami’s road trip to DC United in early March, when the Herons appeared to have taken a 2-0 lead only to have a VAR review not only wipe a goal off the board, but award a red card to defender Román Torres thereafter. But bad breaks are part of football, and had Inter Miami played a full 90 minutes, instead of an electric 45, a tough break on VAR might not have hurt so badly, a point Alonso made in the postgame press conference.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) September 13, 2020
Last Words on Inter Miami vs. Orlando
The evening’s result was certainly disappointing.
On the other hand, Inter Miami finished the six game regional pod with a record of 2-2-2, and look the part of a much-improved product from the one that finished winless and last at the MLS Is Back Tournament. They will become an even stronger side with Gonzalo Higuaín on his way to the club from Juventus, meaning that despite tonight’s setback, things are definitely looking up in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think this team is good,” Shea said of the team’s bounce back since their ill-fated trip to Disney. “We haven’t played 90 minutes as a team consistently, which we need to do more. But there are very good players here. I’m happy to be in this group and yeah, I think there are big things to come for this group.”