Nani’s goal in the 80th minute gave Orlando City a shot, but the Lions couldn’t find an equalizer after falling behind by multiple goals for the first time all season. Round 2 of Tropic Thunder went to Inter Miami, 3-2 at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
It was the first gameday road trip under the new MLS pandemic travel rules for Orlando City (2-2-2, 8 points), and the Lions lacked sharpness in allowing two early first-half goals to Julian Carranza and an early second-half goal to Rodolfo Pizarro, giving Miami (1-5-0, 3 points) its first MLS win. It snapped a three-match league unbeaten streak (2-0-1) for the Lions, with all of those coming in the bubble, and knotted the season series between the two teams at one apiece. Hey, at least rookie Daryl Dike scored a goal (and added a hockey assist) in his first professional start.
After the match Head Coach Oscar Pareja said the Lions, as a group, were not sharp enough in their defensive third and promised the team will get back on track.
“We should defend those crosses better, obviously,” Pareja said of one of his biggest criticisms of the team’s performance. “
Pareja went mostly with his preferred MLS is Back Tournament lineup with two notable exceptions. Dike got his first MLS start up top in the striker position in place of Tesho Akindele (who was, himself, taking Dom Dwyer’s spot). Chris Mueller started on the bench rather than the right wing, with Junior Urso filling in. Aside from that, it was the usual suspects: Pedro Gallese in goal; Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan on the back line; Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell in the holding midfield; and Nani and Mauricio Pereyra on the attacking midfield line with Urso.
“There’s many games coming and we come in also from a difficult tournament,” Pareja said about his decision to start Dike and Urso in place of Akindele and Mueller. “Unfortunately, I have to say as well that we didn’t feel comfortable. And there was minutes in the game where we wanted to have the ball, but we couldn’t occupy the space defensively. That creates a gap there that Miami took advantage.”
The Lions came out looking like the team with the longer layoff. There was a noticeable lack of sharpness in the midfield with passes either offline or a tad late and getting deflected, leading to Miami turning them over and getting forward. Miami’s first goal came just 12 minutes in, when Mendez tried a fancy back-heel pass in the midfield and picked out Miami’s Pizarro instead of his own teammate. Pizarro held the ball and then released Carranza, who beat Gallese with a hard shot from in close to make it 1-0.
Carranza got another opportunity two minutes later but Jansson made an important block to keep it a one-goal game. Lewis Morgan sent a couple of dangerous crosses through the area as Miami kept pressing forward.
The Lions struck back in the 18th minute. Dike made a nice spin move to beat Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, got down the right and sent a cannon shot that Luis Robles fought off. Dike was the first to react and had a second effort blocked, then he spun around, reset, and sent a shot off Andrés Reyes and past Robles for his first MLS goal, making it a 1-1 game.
“It felt phenomenal,” Dike said of scoring his first MLS goal. “I mean throughout the season, through our preseason, throughout my entire life, you know we’ve always worked super hard. Everyone around me has worked super hard with me to have moments like these.”
The game didn’t stay tied long. Ben Sweat sent a cross into the area in the 23rd minute and it looked like Jansson had it covered. But he either didn’t get enough air or jumped a split second early, allowing Carranza to get onto it and head it back across the face of goal and inside the back post to make it 2-1.
The Lions were better after the hydration break but didn’t create a lot on the offensive end. Without Mueller in the game, Ruan had nobody but defensive midfielders to play off of, as Mauricio Pereyra and Nani dropped deeper to get on the ball. Ruan did make a decent cross in the 44th minute, but Miami got a piece of it and Moutinho got under his volley attempt, sending it high into the Fort Lauderdale night.
Both teams had six shot attempts in the opening half but Miami got more on target (3-2). Orlando City held 63.2% of the ball but it was largely unproductive possession as they Lions continuously allowed themselves to get squeezed once they got to midfield. The Lions were the better passing team (88%-82%) but it was Orlando turnovers that gave Miami its chances.
Unfortunately, Miami added to its lead just moments after the restart. The Lions fell asleep defensively, leaving both Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini all alone on the left side of the penalty area. A simple ball in from Miami’s right side was deflected on and fell to the last guy Orlando wanted to see get onto it. Pizarro had only to pick out his spot to make it 3-1 in the 49th minute.
“With that third goal coming out of nowhere, it hurt us,” Pareja said.
Pizarro nearly put the match out of reach a minute later on a 1-v-1 opportunity with Antonio Carlos but he sent a shot off the far post.
Orlando dodged another bullet in the 55th minute when Rosell blocked a Pizarro cross intended for Victor Ulloa, who was all alone in front of goal, as the Lions continued to look a bit confused defensively.
The Lions then started to claw back into the match, settling down and getting the ball through Miami’s low block and into dangerous areas, working from outside in. Pareja said substituting Mueller on for Urso helped the team start creating more chances and using the wider spaces better against Miami’s low defensive block.
Ruan sent in a good cross in the 56th but Nani couldn’t quite get across the front of his defender to put a head on it. Then Nani sent a good ball through the area in the 60th that Dike tried to flick toward goal but he couldn’t pick it out of the air. Dike then nearly got in alone in the 61st, but Reyes made a vital last-ditch tackle.
Moutinho fizzed a dangerous ball just a bit too far out in front of second-half sub Mueller in the 68th minute. Mueller had a shot blocked a minute later, as the Lions continued to try to find a lifeline in the match.
Mueller nearly got that lifeline in the 74th minute. Akindele, who had only come on a few minutes earlier, sent a good cross through the six and Mueller made a sliding lunge at it but the ball hit Robles and stayed out.
Orlando finally pulled within striking distance in the 80th. Dike took a pass from Ruan in the box on the right side but was walled off by Gonzalez Pirez. Rather than force a bad shot or try to do too much, the rookie made a heads-up play to lay it off for Mueller, who sent a cross to the back post. This time Nani timed it well and got in behind his man, heading home to make it 3-2.
Orlando City kept fighting to find an equalizer. Nani fought off a blatant hold by Dylan Nealis in the 83rd minute and fired a shot right at Robles. He may have been better served getting the free kick at the left side of the box, but that’s easy to say after the shot.
The clock wound down and the final good opportunity came in the 91st minute. Nani sent a deceptive shot toward goal from the right that caught the crossbar and bounced over. The Lions appealed for a corner, but the referee ruled that Robles didn’t get a touch. Moments later, the match was over and Miami had its first win.
Orlando out-shot Inter Miami 12-11 (5-4 on target) for the game, out-possessed the hosts (64.6%), and was the more accurate passing side (88%-78%), but it was the Herons claiming the points in their first ever home game.
The Lions had ample opportunities to score but the difference in the game was some poor passing early in the game and a lack of defensive sharpness at the start of the second half.
On the other hand, this was easily Dike’s best performance of his young career, although the decision to start Urso ahead of Mueller didn’t work out quite as well.
The Lions will try to bounce back Wednesday night at home at 7:30 p.m. in their first-ever meeting with Nashville SC.