Luis Robles is ready to make his debut for Inter Miami CF. (Photo courtesy of MLS)
ORLANDO – Barring a last-minute change or surprise, Orlando City and Inter Miami CF will kick off the MLS Is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports).
The comeback competition already had been derailed by the withdrawal of FC Dallas due to 10 players testing positive for COVID-19 and the opening match between Nashville SC and Chicago Fire being postponed because five players had COVID19 for the former side.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, this game was still on. Both teams are winless from their March matches.
It will be the first Florida derby encounter between these two squads in front of no spectators at Disney World.
“The tournament is important to the maximum. Every match we have to play, we know it has a high value because every time we play, we are making history,” Miami head coach Diego Alonso said. “In the next match we’re looking for our first win and we will try, in each of the three group stage matches, to add the maximum number of points that allow us to come out from the Orlando tournament with better chances of qualifying to the playoffs.
“We are very excited, happy with the possibility to play again, to do what we like, to be on a field of play, first through training and now in these next days, playing and debuting in the tournament. That gives us happiness.”
Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja also was looking forward to the match-up.
“I expect two teams that have been preparing for a long time, trying to be ready for this tournament. With this being the opener, it’s going to bring a lot of tension,” he said. “We’re expecting a lot of energy. Our energy will be there for sure and I bet theirs will be too. We’re ready, the boys have done a great job on the preparation and we’re anxious just to start the tournament.”
Pareja’s side has been seeded atop Group A for the tournament as the host club, joining Inter Miami, Chicago Fire FC, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union and Nashville SC in the competition’s lone group of six. Nashville has been moved to the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Due to the larger group, MLS has announced that the top three finishers in Group A will advance to the knockout stage, along with the top two teams from the other five groups and the three best third-place finishers.
The group stage will take place across 16 consecutive days of action with each club playing three preliminary stage matches. All group stage match results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings, as well as towards qualification to the tournament knockout stage.
After the group stage, the knockout stage will begin, set to include a Round of 16 played as doubleheaders on four consecutive evenings (July 25-28), followed by the quarterfinals (July 30-Aug 1), semifinals (Aug. 5-6) and the MLS is Back Tournament final on August 11 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/TSN). The tournament champion will earn a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.
The Lions began the 2020 campaign with nine new faces on the roster before their season was put on hold on March 12, highlighted by Peruvian international goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, Palmeiras defender Antonio Carlos and former Corinthians midfielder Júnior Urso. Returning to the Club in 2020 include defenders Robin Jansson and Ruan, Ecuadorian international Sebastián Méndez in the midfield and the Lions’ top-two goal-scorers from a year ago in forwards Tesho Akindele and their captain, Luis Nani.
Inter Miami CF began its long-awaited MLS tenure with two road matches prior to the suspension.
The expansion team began its inaugural season with two matches on the road, starting with a trip to Banc of California Stadium on March 1, for a 1-0 loss to reigning Supporters’ Shield champions Los Angeles FC. Inter Miami then traveled to Audi Field to take on D.C. United, where Rodolfo Pizarro scored the first goal in Club history, but left with a 2-1 defeat while being a man down.
The Miami roster is highlighted by Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro, former Sounders defender Román Torres, USMNT midfielder Wil Trapp and veteran MLS and former Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. The club announced the signing of defender Leandro González Pirez ahead of their arrival in Orlando, but the Argentine defender will not be eligible for the tournament.
After its much-anticipated matchup with Inter Miami, the Lions will turn their attention to a matchup with 2015 expansion rivals New York City FC on Tuesday, July 14 before closing out the group stage on Monday, July 20 against Nashville SC.