‘We want to go over there and win’: Inter Miami preparing for Orlando tournament

Tribune Content Agency

There is light at the end of the tunnel for Inter Miami CF.

July 8 is the date. Exactly 129 days after the club’s inaugural Major League Soccer game, a 1-0 loss at Los Angeles FC, Inter Miami will return to the field after a stoppage during the coronavirus pandemic. It won’t be on their home field. And it won’t be in front of fans.

But there is a game on the calendar now, and it will be the first of MLS’ return to play in Orlando, as Inter Miami takes on Orlando City SC. The league is allowing for teams to reconvene for full-squad practices now, and Inter Miami is taking full advantage. For players, the end of what will amount to more downtime than a normal offseason is in sight.

“Yeah it changes everything. I think we’re excited. We’re counting down the days,” midfielder Victor Ulloa said. “It’s three weeks from kickoff, and we’re excited to go down there and get going.”

Inter Miami was placed into the lone pool with five other teams: Orlando City, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire, and Nashville SC.

While the MLS is Back Tournament will not replace the league’s regular season, which it hopes to resume in team stadiums afterward, there will be stakes. There will be a $1.1 million prize pool for the tournament’s winner, and that team will also clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The players say those stakes matter and are goals worth striving for.

“The approach is that we want to go over there and win,” Ulloa said. “Like you said, we’re playing for very important things of the berth of the CONCACAF Champions League, which is an objective I know the coach wants us to do. And it would be a great accomplishment to do that in our first year.”

Video from Wednesday’s practice shows players going through drills and scrimmages as normal. For Inter Miami, unlike most other teams, the period of ramping up for Orlando could serve as much to bring the team together as sharpen on-field ability.

“I think people don’t want to leave the facility now that we’ve been here,” said defender Dylan Nealis. “Breakfast and lunch here. Guys have finally been able to spend some time together, learned some more about each other. It’s been great.”

In the coming weeks, players will surely grapple with some of the complications that will arise from being in the “bubble” of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando for multiple months. In a call with reporters last week, sporting director Paul McDonough mentioned some of those considerations: from accounting for the well-being of players’ pets to testing.

There will, eventually, be a home opener, with or without fans. Presumably sooner, the club will get its first win.

For now, though, those worries will take a temporary backseat. Players are back in their element, preparing with the same goal as normal.

“I think everybody’s excited to finally be back playing. The season started off pretty well, even though the results weren’t quite what we wanted,” Nealis said. “I think everybody’s excited to be back and waiting for that July 8th opener.”


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