The wait is finally over.
On Wednesday night, the Lions will take the field for the first time since March 7 when they take on Inter Miami CF in the highly anticipated inaugural matchup between their newfound intrastate foes.
For all surrounding the Club, the match has been a long time coming.
When the Major League Soccer season was suspended on March 12, uncertainty swirled around the team, the Club and the league in regards to a return to play.
Fast forward four months and a day since the Lions last took the pitch, the opportunity to take the field once more has presented itself - an opportunity that Head Coach Oscar Pareja and his group are not taking lightly.
“Players and coaches need to feel blessed to have the opportunity to work first,” Pareja said ahead of the tournament. “I think this pandemic and this period has shown us all that we are very fragile. We can lose our jobs, many have, but we still have the opportunity to perform.
“We have to be grateful, we have to be positive. The game is what matters now. Our Club, our clubs, our objectives, the players and the game itself is what matters now.”
From at-home workouts, to individual sessions, small group training and the eventual return to full team work, the buy-in from the players and staff has never wavered.
The team has taken advantage of the Florida heat and continued to maintain their match fitness in preparation for a possible return to the field. Many players trained multiple times a day at their homes, even when the team was able to return to the training ground.
That very commitment will come to fruition Wednesday night in a matchup that fans have long awaited, even before the COVID-19 pandemic put the season on hold.
The inaugural match against Inter Miami will serve as the first Florida Derby since 2001 and the first chapter of what is expected to be an intrastate rivalry for years to come. The gravity of that moment has not been understated amongst the group.
“It’s an important game for us, for Miami too both being in Florida, and for MLS. It’s the new derby for MLS, so for us it’s important to start the competition with a victory,” Orlando City midfielder Júnior Urso said. “Of course we respect Miami because they’re a very good team, but we have to keep our focus on a victory. We’re going to go out and try to get three points because it’s important for us and our future.”
“It’s definitely a rivalry between the fans and that’s how all rivalries start," forward Tesho Akindele said of the opposition. "As soon as we step on the field with them, we’ll feel it, then the more we play against them, the rivalry will build."
It’s no secret that Wednesday’s contest is no normal match.
Between the first Florida derby in nearly 20 years and the resumption of play following a global pandemic unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, the match is already historic in regard to the off the field circumstances. On the field, the competition will offer the very relief we have all been seeking since that March 12 suspension.
To sum it all up, soccer is back and it’s right in our backyard.
The Lions are back. Now let’s get back to business.