You always remember your first. After a stoppage time game-winner in their first Florida Derby, that’s an understatement for this group of Lions.
In a matchup that has loomed for years, City took the long-awaited first meeting between its neighbors to the south in 2020 expansion side Inter Miami CF, with a 97th minute finish from captain Luis Nani deciding the match by a score of 2-1.
For Nani, playing in derby matches like Wednesday’s is nothing new with a storied career at Manchester United on his resume. In his return to the field after around nine months of rest, he looked true to form for the Lions, contributing to both of their goals in the contest.
“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 said of the match. “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.”
For fellow goalscorer Chris Mueller, derby matches like this aren’t quite as familiar. His performance, however, showed otherwise. Opening the scoring for the Lions in the 70th minute, the finish served as Mueller’s second of 2020 and the 10th of his young MLS career. Though for him and the entirety of the group, the most important thing was those three points.
“The first game against [Inter] Miami, we know that that’s going to be a rivalry that’s going to continue to build throughout the years. To leave our stamp first and foremost and to make a statement I think is great moving forward,” Mueller said of the victory. “When you look collectively at the goal that we have going into the tournament, the first game and winning that and getting those points are crucial.”
The gravity of this newfound rivalry was evident throughout the group leading into this match, adding to the importance of the moment in returning to the field following the suspension of play from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For all involved, Wednesday night was special in a countless number of ways. For Head Coach Oscar Pareja, the win marked an important milestone for him - his first victory at the helm for the Lions. That win coming in these circumstances makes it all the more memorable.
“This [win] is a great step. It’s the first derby and we wanted to give it to our fans. It was the first win in the history of this rivalry, the first game in the tournament after this period,” Pareja said. “Giving joy and history to our fans in this difficult moment, it was the least we could do. We are very proud and very happy to provide these three points to the Club.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the remainder of the season, we aren’t quite sure when the next Florida Derby will take place.
What we do know is that the first one belonged to the Lions and that will be forever ingrained in our Club’s history.
And for the time being…
Florida is Purple.