Orlando City is just hours away from bringing MLS back to fans across America, as the Lions face off against new neighbors Inter Miami CF on Wednesday night in the first MLS Florida derby in 19 years.
City have spent the past week inside the MLS bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort, training diligently for the opening game. Team captain Luis Nani, set to return to the pitch for the first time in over nine months, spoke about the challenge in front of his side.
“My goal is...to show the quality of my football, of my physical condition, and show that I’m ready to compete again and help my team achieve our goals,” Nani said in an MLS press conference on Monday. “You know, it’s been hard...with this situation but we’ve been working hard and I hope we can produce good football in this competition.”
Nani and the Lions have the honor of playing in the tournament’s very first game, which has the potential to make some significant history in Sunshine State soccer. The last match between two Florida MLS teams happened between the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion in 2001, before both teams folded at the end of that season.
Could Orlando City and Inter Miami embark on a major rivalry? Only time will tell, but Nani has been impressed with what he’s seen from the new side.
“We expect a difficult game,” he said. “Very exciting game, everyone wants to see what’s going to happen in that rivalry. But I saw a good team, they are building a strong team. They are new in the league but I think they had time to work, and I saw some good things in their two first games. They have quality young players. For sure, it will be difficult for us, but we must be ready for that game.”
Nani also gave voice to the challenges many of the players are facing during this unprecedented global pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances that have led to this tournament.
“Once you’re here, you are away from home, family, and you’re not allowed to see them regularly or any day you want,” Nani said. “So you must be strong and wait until the end of the tournament. And once you think like that, you know it’s going to be long, but you must handle it, you must be strong, and believe that everything’s going to be okay...I think this is the most difficult part. But I think if you manage everything well, in the end everyone will smile and be much stronger than ever, because we did one step over a difficult moment.”
Orlando City and Inter Miami are set to kick off at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 8. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, with local radio coverage from 7:30 p.m. ET on FM 96.9 the Game