Much is being made of the budding rivalry between Inter Miami and Saturday’s home opponent, Orlando City; but Miami coach Diego Alonso said the rivalry takes a back seat this weekend because all that matters is the result.
He urged his team to treat this game like a championship match.
Orlando City is riding a 12-game unbeaten streak and already clinched a playoff spot. Inter Miami is in 12th place in the 14-team Eastern Conference, two spots shy of the playoff line and desperate for a victory as the regular season winds down.
Asked if the Miami-Orlando matchup is shaping up to be a Clasico, in the mood of Saturday’s Spanish showdown between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Alonso replied: “This type of game is undoubtedly important, especially for the fans, but much more important than a Clasico is a final, and we are going to play a final on Saturday.”
Inter Miami will be playing in front of its biggest home crowd this season, as the club opted to open its stadium to a reduced capacity and sell a few thousand seats to season-ticket holders. COVID-19 forced the closure of the new 18,000-seat stadium in Fort Lauderdale two days before the team’s scheduled home debut in March.
The only people who have been allowed to watch recent games in person were players’ families, team staff and 360 supporter group members who were invited to the game last weekend.
The team could use some crowd energy against Orlando.
Inter Miami will be missing its most famous player, Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain, who is serving a red-card suspension. But the team should get a boost from the return of playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro, who missed four games while in Europe on international duty with the Mexican national team.
“Obviously, Gonzalo is a big loss and Rodo is a big recovery,” said Miami defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. “I wish we could have both. Gonzalo gives us rhythm, and attracts a lot of defensive players, which opens up our forwards. But I think Rodo can give us rhythm, too. I hope he has a really good performance, and we can win.”
Alonso said the team is counting on Pizarro to create scoring chances and be a team leader, especially in the absence of Higuian.
“Rodolfo is a very important player for us, we believe in him,” Alonso said. “He knows the responsibility he has and we think he can help us a lot. In the first few games of the season he was performing at a great level, and we need him to get back to his best level to help us get better going forward.
“The absence of Gonzalo is big, he’s our franchise player, a top player not only in this league, but in all his career. But we have played many games without him and done well. We have confidence in the players behind him and will try to make his absence unnoticeable.”
Defender Andres Reyes also returns to the active roster, in a face mask, after surgery to repair a facial fracture. He was one of the team’s strongest and fastest players on the back line but has been hampered by injuries.
It will be the fourth time the teams play this season. Orlando won twice, and Miami won once, 3-2 at home on Aug. 22. Orlando, which has not lost since that game, sits in fourth place in the East with an 8-2-8 record and 32 points. Miami is 5-11-3 with 18 points.
Two Orlando players to watch for are Portuguese midfielder Nani and rookie striker Daryl Dike. New signee Alexander Alvarado, a 21-year-old Ecuadorean winger, has been cleared to play, but it is unknown if he will make his debut on Saturday.
Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said of the rivalry: “It will be growing organically with time, with games, with stories. I see a rivalry that is getting more attention, especially now that they need points to qualify for the playoffs and we need points to get in better spot.”
Kamal Miller, the Orlando City defender, said there are no secrets between these teams after three games in four months.
“We know what they’ll bring, they know what we’ll bring so it’s just about raising that intensity, beating them in every category, first ball, second balls and just making sure that we’re ready for the fight because we know every time that we play them it’s deeper than just a football match,” Miller said. “It’s for the bragging rights and the points.”
The game will be televised nationally on UniMas.