It's been 19 years since we last had a Florida derby in MLS. In 2001, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion played their last MLS season before both teams folded and the State of Florida was left without a professional soccer/football team. We had to wait a little bit longer due to the pandemic lockdown that put a halt in soccer throughout the world.
Finally the day came, not the way all of South Florida Football fans have been expecting for years since we all wanted to play at a packed stadium with fans cheering for their home team. Nevertheless, it finally happened again, a Football Florida Derby -and I will call it Football because I can't get myself to call it soccer- on July 8th, 2020, Inter Miami played Orlando City and the Florida rivalry became a reality once again.
As an Inter Miami fan, I've been very anxious to witness this game, I've been waiting to see the players’ level after not been able to play football for over 100 days. Also, let's be honest, the main reason why the fans from each one of the teams were anxious and have been waiting for this game is because whomever won would have bragging rights and claim Florida "theirs" for the time being. Unfortunately, Miami fans were left empty handed, for now.
It all started with an 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor the death of George Floyd, close to 200 MLS players stood in silence, wearing a black T-shirt, black glove and black mask. The 8 minutes and 46 seconds were symbolic to the amount of time in which the police officer knelt on Floyd's neck causing his death. In my opinion, MLS is doing the right thing by showing solidarity with those who are against systemic racism in this country and around the world.
As a fan, I watched the game hoping that Inter Miami would play some good football, I was hoping that the team that played D.C United, prior to the pandemic, to show up, playing an attacking style of football, controlling the ball in the midfield and creating chances for the strikers, but that wasn't the case in the first 30 mins of the match.
Orlando City was all over the ball, controlling the match from the very first second, taking control of the midfield, not allowing Miami's midfielders to create plays, they were nonexistent for the first 30 mins of the first half. It was as if they never showed up to the game. Yes, Juan Agudelo had a clear and easy chance in the 8th minute, but after that missed opportunity, Miami was never able to create any more chances. Luis Robles, Inter Miami's goalkeeper, had a few key saves during the first half that could have given Orlando the lead, our defense looked shaky at times, I wasn't sure if it was because they were too nervous, the lack of playing time or simply because they're still a new club that need time to get used to playing together as a team.
After the 30 minute water break, Miami finally woke up. They were a whole different team, pushing forward, controlling the midfield, covering all those gaps in the middle of the field that they kept wide open during the first 30 minutes of the match. Finally, I was watching the Inter Miami team I like, the full backs were pushing forward, no more playing too deep into the defense, no more allowing Orlando to control the ball, to attack us through the middle with clever passing. Now it was our turn, Miami was doing all the right things, Diego Alonso, Miami's manager, made the right adjustments, whatever he told the players during that first water break actually worked, these were different players with a different mentality.
The second half began and Inter Miami started playing with the same intensity as it finished the first half and it paid off really fast because in minute 46, Juan Agudelo scored his first goal with Miami, from a play that started with a beautiful one touch passes from the middle all the way into the box, and Agudelo pushing the ball into the back of the net in the final touch. What a beautiful play, what a great team work, in that very second I said to myself: “This is it, this is our game, that's the team all of Inter Miami fans have been waiting for!” I was very happy for the team, the fans and the fact that we were showing Orlando that we were the better team.
Miami continued playing really good football, they created more chances as time went by but with no luck. Our luck changed soon after we scored our first goal: Andrés Reyes, one of our defenders, had to be carried out of the game on a stretcher after suffering a blow to the throat by Dom Dwyer. It was a scary scene, at some point Reyes looked as if he wasn't able to breathe. Some players looked shocked at what they were witnessing; Dom Dwyer was one of them. Luckily, Reyes seems to be in good health now because he returned to the hotel the next day to join his team.
Minute 69, Nani, who was nowhere to be found for a large portion of the match, created a play down the left flank only to assist Orlando's Chris Mueller to score the equalizer. Now with the game tied, both teams had to play with more intensity to try to win those 3 points. By this time, Mexican Rodolfo Pizarro was in the game, he had been benched due to getting hurt during practice, but finally we had our creative player in the middle to try to create scoring chances for our strikers.
Miami and Orlando both kept pushing forward, trying to score the winning goal, unfortunately for the Miami fans, that winning goal never came, but it did come for Orlando late into injury time. Nani scored from a play that started on the left and ended up with a cross inside the box, the ball bounced off a player and landed on Nani's feet, and he easily kicked the ball into the back of the net. Some say that Luis Robles, Miami's keeper, could have done better, but the fact of the matter is that there was nothing Robles could have done. Maybe he could have come off his line when the ball was crossed, but that was a very fast pace play and in my opinion, he did the right thing by holding up his line.
Our first Florida Derby didn't go the way we were hoping it would go, some fans might be angry at what they saw. Some, like me, who sees the positive and the negatives of the match aren't as angry. Yes, it took Miami 30 mins during the first half for them to start really playing, but we also have to give Orlando credit because they came out to play from the very first second of the game. Miami didn't play with some of their starting players, such as Pizarro, perhaps if he played from the beginning of the match the outcome would have been a lot different. We all know he's a very creative player that can create chances and also be able to score.
If you think about it, Miami hasn't had any luck since the beginning of the season. First, we are a new team in the league, we opened up against the best team in MLS right now, LAFC, players still aren't used to playing together. Then, during our second game against DC United, we finally start showing the league that we're here to play some good football, but then the pandemic lockdown happened and we are back to square one, learning how to play together as a team once again. It seems as if everything is not going our way at the moment.
As a fan I want Miami to win every game, but I also understand that there are circumstances that are out of our hands and the team. That's preventing the team from playing at its full potential, I have faith in Diego Alonso, I know that he's a great manager. The team just needs more time and a few more games to get some rhythm, for the players to get used to one another during real games, not just practice matches amongst them. I hope that things start turning around for our team in these coming 2 weeks. We have a good team, good players. Yes, we need a 9, a striker that we know can score goals, but that will happen eventually. For now, we need to play with what we have, all we need is time.