On July 8, Orlando City will return to action when it takes on Inter Miami CF for the first time to open the MLS is Back Tournament. Major League Soccer’s obsession with rivalries will see the league attempt to force animosity between the two clubs, despite them having never played each other. While this will be the first time these two clubs face off, it won’t be the first time the Lions play an opponent from South Florida.
Before Orlando City became a mainstay in Central Florida, South Florida had the MLS action. While Orlando was passed over by the league, both Miami and Tampa had teams in the country’s first division until 2001. When professional soccer finally did return to Orlando in 2010, only the Fort Lauderdale Strikers existed in that part of the state.
During its era in USL Pro and MLS, Orlando City never faced a Floridian opponent in league play. However, this didn’t stop the Lions from taking on South Florida teams. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup allows teams from different divisions to play in competitive games. This allowed the Lions to develop a history of facing teams south of them.
In total, Orlando City has taken on South Florida opponents three times in the Open Cup. The Lions lost 2-1 to the Strikers in 2016 in extra time, fell 3-1 to Miami FC in 2017, and then defeated Miami United FC 3-0 in 2018. The only competitive games in which the Lions took on an in-state opponent of equal or higher division status in a competitive game was when they beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-1 in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup.
The matches against South Florida sides also started an odd and short-lived tradition where the Lions signed the players who beat them. Following the 2016 season, Orlando City signed Victor “PC” Giro, who scored the winning goal for Fort Lauderdale to knock the Lions out of the 2016 Open Cup. A year later, Orlando signed Stefano Pinho, the striker who scored a hat trick for Miami FC to eliminate the Lions from the tournament yet again. The 2018 win over Miami United meant there was nobody to sign, and it would’ve been a much larger jump in talent with a three-division difference between the two clubs.
The match between Orlando City and Inter Miami won’t be held in either team’s stadium or in front of fans, so it will be a one-off situation. However, since it’s taking place during the group stage, it will still count for league points. That will make it the first official league game between Orlando City’s first team and one from another part of the state.
When Orlando City takes the field against Inter Miami on July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, it will be the first time the first team has played a league game against an in-state opponent. But it won’t be the first time it’s faced a South Florida team in a competitive game. The highly anticipated tournament opener will continue a string of intrastate games started in 2016.