ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City loses to Inter Miami CF, 3-1, to end the Lions’ Leagues Cup run.
A weather delay in Ft. Lauderdale had fans huddling under DRV PNK Stadium to avoid getting soaked while they waited an hour and a half to watch Leo Messi take on the Lions of Orlando City.
City entered Wednesday night’s match after winning the South Region 2 in the first round of Leagues Cup play by beating Houston Dynamo FC and Liga MX’s Santos Laguna.
Inter Miami came into the game after winning their group against Liga MX’s Cruz Azul and Atlanta United, a run that included the signing of Messi and his first two games with the club.
After the weather had passed, the vibe at DRV PNK Stadium was festive and loud. The Miami fans were also officially introduced to another recent high-profile signing, Jordi Alba.
Alba and Messi played together in Barcelona and will join a revamped Miami squad from the start of the season with additional signings of Sergio Busquets and Diego Gomez in July.
The heat in Miami played second to the heat on the field in this Florida derby.
In the first two Leagues Cup games for Messi, Cruz Azul and Atlanta United appeared to be spectators to Miami’s number 10 and allowing Messi to find open spaces where he could do as he wished.
Orlando may have fallen into that trap in the 7-minute when a nice combination between Messi and his new best friend, Robert Taylor.
Taylor chipped a ball over the backline as Messi ran between two defenders to take the ball off his chest and, with his left foot, hit the volley past Orlando’s goalkeeper Pedro Gallesse.
Since Messi joined Miami, Robert Taylor has three goals and two assists in three games. Before Messi’s arrival, Taylor had two goals and four assists this season and only three goals and three assists last year.
Orlando was able to tie it up in the 17-minute when César Araújo picked up a rebound in Miami’s box and drove a shot past goalkeeper Drake Callender.
After the first Miami goal, the Lions’ midfielders, César Araújo, and Wilder Cartagena, were more physical with Messi when he touched the ball and were able to force Messi into a yellow card in the 21-minute.
But Messi showed a spirit and fight that the Inter fans loved to see. For the rest of the game, Messi could be seen chirping back and forth with Orlando players and willing to dribble into double, sometimes triple teams and making tough tackles to win the ball back from Orlando.
Araújo and Messi left the pitch at halftime continuing their conversations and had to be separated by officials and players.
The game would go into halftime tied 1-1.
In the 51-minute, Orlando’s Antonio Carlos was called for a foul against Miami’s Josef Martinez inside the box that appeared to be a little soft, but the penalty was given and Martinez beat Gallese from the spot to put Miami up 2-1.
The great one would put the game away in the 72-minute with another combination involving Taylor, Messi, and Martinez.
Taylor dribbled the ball up the left side of the pitch and found Martinez with another chip into the box. Martinez knocked the ball down with his chest and found Messi with a pass sitting at the top of the 6-yard box and Messi used his right foot to beat Gallese’s diving save.
Miami would win the Florida derby 3-1 and knock Orlando City out of the Leagues Cup.
Orlando will have over two weeks to rest before they continue regular season play in Chicago against the Fire on Aug. 20. The Lions’ next home game at Exploria Stadium will be against Western Conference top team, St. Louis City SC on Aug. 26.
The next game for Inter Miami FC will be on the road when they play FC Dallas on Sunday in a Leagues Cup match.
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