Two weeks after dispatching Atlanta United for the first time (in pretty comfortable fashion, at that), Orlando struck a decisive blow against new southern neighbors Inter Miami, riding a classic Mauricio Pereyra performance and a good bit of steel to a 2-1 victory in both Saturday’s game and the season series between the two clubs.
Miami have shown a willingness to play in the mud in their first season under Diego Alonso, comfortably leading the league in fouls conceded at nearly 17 per game. The visitors came in determined to chop up the game, taking four yellow cards and making several more borderline tactical fouls, including one from Nico Figal on Nani that led directly to Orlando’s first goal.
The Lions were more than prepared, though, and have shown plenty of nerve under Oscar Pareja. Orlando actually committed more fouls than Miami at 20-14, not necessarily a negative in a match that was physical and tense from the opening whistle. Ruan excelled on the right side of defense against whoever Alonso threw at him, recording a team-high six tackles and an interception.
Midfielder Sebas Mendez had a particularly great night. Even in 2019, it was clear that the young Ecuadorian was more than happy to deliver a crunching tackle, and the bite he provides was sorely needed on Saturday. Mendez was called for a team-high four fouls, an acceptable trade-off for his four tackles and game-high eight ball recoveries. Mendez also did well on the ball in the face of French World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, completing 87.5% of his passes and putting Matuidi in the washing machine on one occasion:
Pareja has a deep central midfield at his disposal between Mendez, Júnior Urso, Uri Rosell, Andrés Perea, and rookie Joey DeZart, who made a brief cameo on Saturday night for his MLS regular season debut. Pereyra has also shown a willingness to defend uncommon in traditional No. 10s–the Uruguayan dynamo has led Orlando in ball recoveries in multiple games this year and had two of the team’s six interceptions on Saturday night.
The 2020 season has delivered an Orlando City side that many have called the most attractive team in MLS, playing a beautiful possession-based game that can be electrifying in its best moments. But Saturday night showed that this side is no show pony. When the moment calls for it, Orlando City can get their hands dirty, too.