For the third straight game, Orlando City scored first but conceded an equalizing goal. But unlike the previous two matches, the Lions responded and regained the lead immediately to beat Inter Miami 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (5-2-4, 19 points) is unbeaten in its last five games (3-0-2), while Inter Miami (2-7-2, 8 points) had a modest three-game unbeaten streak snapped. The Lions improved to 2-1-0 against Miami.
Mauricio Pereyra scored his second goal of the season to break a 1-1 deadlock after a first-half Inter Miami own goal was canceled out by a second-half header by former Orlando City player Brek Shea. That was the difference as Miami conceded more than one goal for the first time since beating the Lions 3-2 in the first game of the MLS restart.
“Good game, especially again the first half for us was with a lot of quality,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “The players imposed on the game to create options. And when we came back from the first half we didn’t want to change but I think Diego (Alonso) moved his team very well. And then they started creating some challenges for us, especially on the sides because he extended his line. And then I think we had opportunies to react and we did. We scored a second goal.”
Despite having a normal week between games for a change, Pareja didn’t roll with a first-choice lineup. Kyle Smith and Rodrigo Schlegel slotted into the left side of the back line next to Antonio Carlos and Ruan in front of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez manned the central midfield behind attacking midfielders Nani, Pereyra, and Chris Mueller and striker Daryl Dike. Uri Rosell and Robin Jansson were left out of the 18 completely.
“[Rosell] had a pain that we want to take care of. It’s nothing important but we wanted him to recover from the exhausted weeks that he had had,” Pareja said. “And Robin in the last day as well he picked up a knock and couldn’t play. But as I say, when these things happen, it just opens opportunities for some players that are waiting.”
The first half was extremely contentious, with Miami players nipping at Orlando’s heels every time the Lions moved into the attacking third. Orlando players didn’t appreciate Ismail Elfath allowing so much contact, including a rough challenge on Nani that drew no card, but actually led to the opening goal.
But the most physical play was Miami-on-Miami crime. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez collided with Ben Sweat in the air, and the latter stayed down and had to leave the game in the opening minutes. Former Lion Mikey Ambrose replaced him.
Nani provided the first good opportunity of the match after Mueller drew a foul outside the area. The captain’s free kick beat the wall but smacked off the crossbar in the 11th minute.
Juan Agudelo got Miami’s first good chance off a corner with a free header but his shot was off target in the 28th minute.
Nicolas Figal had been nipping at Nani’s heels throughout the first half and the captain knocked a ball past him in the 33rd and attempted to run by him but the Miami defender reached out and hauled Nani down roughly, getting a lecture from Elfath but no booking. Pereyra took the ensuing free kick, which appeared to hit off of Schlegel then off of Miami defender Andres Reyes and into the net to make it 1-0 in the 34th minute.
Mendez stepped up into a good shooting area just outside the box in the 38th minute but he didn’t make good contact and skipped a slow shot wide of goal. Four minutes later, Dike beat Reyes and was hauled down just outside the area to set up an Orlando free kick and earning Reyes a booking. This time Nani got his free kick on goal but Luis Robles made a diving save to keep it at 1-0 in the 43rd minute.
Reyes should have gotten his second yellow in the 45th minute when he clobbered Pereyra in the head but no call was made and Miami countered, resulting in a yellow instead for Schlegel. That was it for the first half.
Orlando had more shots (5-3), more shots on target (1-0), and more corners (4-2) in the opening half, while keeping the ball for 67.9% of the time and out-passing Miami, 89%-77%.
Shea came on for Ambrose to start the second half and Ruan roasted him just after the restart. The Brazilian right back burned Shea down the right side but his pass intended for Pereyra at the top of the box was behind the Uruguayan.
The game opened up for a bit after that, with Gallese making a stop on Lewis Morgan in the 53rd and Mueller forcing a diving save from Robles in the 55th minute.
Miami got the equalizer from a familiar face in the 65th minute. Gallese punched out a corner kick cross but Rodolfo got onto the ball out on the right and sent a cross back into the box. His cross found Shea, who out-jumped Carlos near the penalty spot and headed inside the left post to make it 1-1.
The tie didn’t last long. Orlando came right back to regain the lead in the 69th minute. Nani tried to feed a through ball to Pereyra but it was deflected and found its way to Mueller, who hit it with his first touch and found Pereyra at the top of the 18. The Uruguayan fired off the left post and into the net to make it 2-1.
The celebration in the stadium was nearly a costly one. With purple smoke still hanging in the air near The Wall, Shea launched a high ball from midfield. Gallese had trouble locating the ball and it was almost right on top of him when he did. El Pulpo was able to knock it out for a corner but it was nearly a bizarre goal.
As strange as that was, the game got really weird a couple minutes later. A through ball came in for Julian Carranza with Schlegel trailing the play. Carranza went down but Elfath did not spot any infraction on the Orlando center back, who yelled at Carranza to get up, prompting some Miami teammates to come forward and get into Schlegel’s face. Miami lobbied for a penalty call and Elfath consulted with Video Assistant Referee Christina Unkel, then went to the monitor.
Elfath reviewed the play and awarded a penalty and a second yellow card to Schlegel, sending him off. However, Unkel continued to review the play and ruled that Carranza was offside before the foul was committed. The penalty was nullified, as well as the second yellow to Schlegel.
“I couldn’t see much from my view,” Pareja said about the play. He said the fourth official came over to tell him the play was ruled offside after the initial video review by Elfath.
The strange night continued in the 80th when a ball into the area pinballed between a few players and fell perfectly for Shea to run onto but his shot was blocked.
After that, Alex De John came on for his first appearance of the season and Orlando went to three at the back. From that point on, Miami’s only good look at goal was a bloop shot from Pizarro that was a comfortable catch for Gallese.
Miami turned the shots around, firing to a 12-8 final margin, but each team got three on target. Inter ended up with more corners (7-5), while Orlando held more possession (54.4%) and was still the better passing team despite a sloppy second half (83%-82%). While some may blame a bunkering mentality it was really Orlando’s lack of sharpness playing out of the back in the second period, combined with Miami pushing more players forward that pushed both the possession and accuracy numbers.
“They have physical players in the back,” Pereyra said of the chippy match. “They have Reyes, Gonzalez Pirez and Figal. They are really tough and I think they make us troubles there.”
“That’s the nature of a rivalry match,” Mueller said. “There’s always a little bit of an extra edge to the game. You could see it as we’re coming together with the referee. There’s a lot of things after the play. That’s just the way it is in derby games, especially one like this that’s starting to build. I think it’s good though. It’s fun. It makes for a good match and a lot of intensity, a lot of energy between the two teams so, it’s great for for everybody.”
Orlando City has completed Phase 1 of the MLS restart and will begin Phase 2 next Saturday at home when the Chicago Fire visit Exploria Stadium at 7:30 p.m.