Nani’s goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time lifted Orlando City to a 2-1 win over Inter Miami in the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The Lions fell behind early in the second half on a Juan Agudelo goal, but Chris Mueller and the captain struck in the game’s late stages to give Orlando the first win in the series between the two teams.
It was Oscar Pareja’s first win with Orlando City (1-1-1 on the season, 1-0-0 in the tournament).
“Both teams were very generous with their effort. We saw a lot of soccer there,” Pareja said after the game. “We are proud with the victory. Congratulations to the players and the fans.”
“I think that we look collectively at the goal that we had going into the tournament. I think that going into that first game and winning that and getting those points are crucial,” Mueller said. “Like Nani said, getting to score a goal feels great, but most importantly, the team got the win and I think all in all we’re really proud of the guys. We put in so much work.”
The lineup Pareja sent out for the first match of the tournament included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Uri Rosell and Junior Urso played central midfield behind an attacking line of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Mueller, with Dom Dwyer up top.
Before the match got underway, there was a powerful moment on the pitch as the teams — as well as members of the Black Players for Change from other teams — took time out to honor the Black Lives Matter movement.
The first match since early March began as cautiously and sloppily as you might expect. Each team had one excellent scoring chance in the first half hour. Agudelo’s flick nine minutes in should have opened the scoring but his touch was poor and it sailed wide of Pedro Gallese’s goal.
Pereyra sent Mueller in at the 23-minute mark, but he left the shot too close to Luis Robles, who made a great save. The ball ping-ponged into Dwyer’s path but the unexpected ricochet caught him mid-step and he couldn’t direct it in.
Each team got a couple of set pieces late in the half but nothing came of them, although Ben Sweat did knock a ball past Gallese and into the net, but he used his fist to do so and was booked for intentionally handling the ball. Neither team got a better look than those early chances and the teams went to the break scoreless.
Each team had three first-half shots, with Orlando getting the only one on target in the opening 45 minutes. The Lions held 62.7% of the possession and the better passing accuracy (83%-72%) but both teams struggled a bit to get into dangerous areas in the attacking half.
It took Miami only two minutes to score after the break. Urso got caught on the wrong side of Matias Pellegrini, who laid off the ball to Victor Ulloa for a cross in to Agudelo, who lost Carlos on his run and tapped it in at the 47-minute mark to open the scoring.
Miami’s Andres Reyes had to be stretchered off in a scary moment less than 10 minutes later. He came together with Dwyer on an aerial ball and Reyes was caught in the throat by the striker’s arm as the two jostled for position. Rodolfo Pizarro subbed on and Miami switched to four at the back. The lengthy delay in the stretcher getting to Reyes and getting him off the field — plus the second-half water break — ultimately left enough stoppage time for Nani’s eventual winner.
Pareja made a double switch at the 63-minute mark, sending on Tesho Akindele and Sebas Mendez for Dwyer and Urso, respectively. The move changed the game a bit as Orlando started getting back into things. Pereyra and Nani fired a couple of long-range efforts over the next few minutes and then the captain combined with Mueller to tie the game in the 70th.
Nani got forward down the left and curled in a perfect cross past Akindele — who had drawn two defenders to him — that found a sliding Mueller. Robles got a piece of it but couldn’t keep it out and the game was tied at 1-1.
Moments later, Mueller nearly took the ball off Robles’ foot but the ball bounced Miami’s way and the South Florida side was able to clear it. Mueller then picked out Tesho with a great cross but the Canadian couldn’t make good contact with it and a good scoring chance melted away.
Nani headed just inches off target off a great cross from substitute Benji Michel in the 86th minute, as Orlando continued to look for a winner. But Miami nearly scored in the 90th minute when a corner kick cross from Lee Nguyen found Jay Chapman, who nodded just inches over the bar.
A cross in from the left deep in stoppage time bounced off a Miami defender and fell for Nani to sweep home in the 97th minute to snap the deadlock and lift Orlando to three vital points to open the competition.
The Lions led in shots (10-8), shots on goal (3-1), possession (58.1%-41.9%), and passing accuracy (82%-74%). But it took grit and resolve to erase the deficit in the late stages of the game to give Pareja his first win as head coach.
“It’s a reward from the players, what they did on the field,” Pareja said. “I thought they were the best team on the pitch and I’m very proud.”
The Lions will have almost a full week off before facing New York City FC next Tuesday at 10:30 p.m.