Having claimed Florida bragging rights for the time being, Orlando City SC look to secure a spot in the knockout round of the MLS Is Back tournament Tuesday night when it faces New York City FC.
The Lions (1-1-1) do not exactly have home-pitch advantage despite the tournament being played in their backyard in Orlando, but they can lay claim to the first Florida derby victory after rallying past Inter Miami CF 2-1 on Wednesday night to open MLS Is Back.
There was some Manchester United on Manchester United crime as former playmaker Nani spoiled the MLS return of United icon and current Inter Miami CF president David Beckham, setting up Christopher Mueller’s equalizer in the 70th minute before bagging the winner seven minutes into stoppage time on a scramble inside the penalty area.
“We have a goal, in the long term, but this is a great beginning. And, yes, it’s always fantastic to play a derby,” Nani told Orlando’s official website. “Today we made the noise, and I think both teams did great for the first game and I hope it continues like that to make this competition beautiful.”
Nani, who has five match-winning goals to his credit since joining the club last year, has racked up 13 goals and 11 assists in 31 matches with Orlando. First-year coach Oscar Pareja was pleased with his first win, but is getting his side ready on a quick turnaround.
“(NYCFC) has a good team. We understand that and we’re preparing to play against them with the energy, the discipline and the characteristics that we have as a team,” Pareja said. “It’s a long journey and we want to win all the games, but when you develop a mentality that you are positive about, it’s contagious. I hope the boys keep growing and we hope we can keep building going into this match.”
Despite being on the bottom of Group A, all is not lost for NYCFC (0-3-0) even with a defeat in this match since the four best third-place teams will also advance to the knockout round of the tournament. The Bronx Blues were on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline versus Philadelphia on Thursday night, failing to find an equalizer after conceding just after the hour.
NYCFC’s offense has yet to find its bearings in the final third, failing to score in all three matches despite totaling 13 shots on target and 35 overall through the three matches bridging the layoff. Heber and Gary Mackay-Steven were thwarted late as New York City FC has gone goalless in three straight league matches for the first time in club history.
“They’re going to want to repeat their performance last night. It’s much more important for us so we have to come out with energy and we really have to go for it,” James Sands told the club’s official website. “There’s no holding back at this point. It is a must-win and we need the three points.”
Alexandru Mitrita should be available for this match after sitting out Thursday night due to a knock suffered in practice. Playmaker Maxi Moralez needed to come off in the 76th minute, raising concerns his availability could be limited.
The teams have split 15 all-time matches (5-5-5) since coming into the league together in 2015, but NYCFC is 4-0-3 in the last seven. That last draw, though, ended with Orlando City advancing on penalty kicks in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, highlighted by the “Running of the Wall” in which Orlando City supporters raced through the stands to the other end of the pitch before the shootout started after NYCFC chose to defend the south goal away from the Lions fan section.