Orlando City book showdown with Inter Miami & Messi: “We’ll be ready” | MLSSoccer.com
With Wilder Cartagena‘s last-gasp 92nd-minute game-winner delivering a 3-2 victory over Liga MX power Santos Laguna at Exploria Stadium on Saturday evening, the Lions’ Round of 32 opponent will be none other than Inter Miami CF.
The latest Florida Derby is set for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, after both MLS sides won their South region group in the competition’s opening stages. And their biggest rival is now led by the recently-arrived superstar duo of Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, with Jordi Alba waiting in the wings for his own debut.
“That we will be ready,” Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja said postgame of his reaction to his upcoming opposition. “It was in our mind in our preparation; no other words in the last week other than Santos. We know that you can [overlook] things and then start thinking ahead, what if? But that was not in our equation, nothing but just beating Santos.
“But surely after the victory we have to face a team who has been playing well and obviously just to make sure – the Messi thing, right, it is the wave that is bringing a lot of attention and we’re very proud. But we know what we are. We know who we are. And we’re going to go get the victory because we our heart is prepared to do it.”
While Inter Miami are soaring after their electric, Messi-led wins over Cruz Azul and Atlanta United, Orlando City are riding some equally positive momentum.
Cartagena’s match-winner bookended a hard-fought, entertaining match, which saw Orlando erase a 1-0 deficit on the strength of goals from Duncan McGuire and Mauricio Pereyra, only to see Santos’ Harold Preciado net a 58th-minute equalizer. That set the stage for Cartanega, who converted a redirected shot off an assist from César Araújo that set off raucous scenes at Exploria Stadium.
“I think we gave a great step today towards our objectives and obviously keep working forward in Leagues Cup, but also to many other things that are going to help us for the end of the season,” Pareja said. “So great game. I thought it was a very complete performance the whole game and we fought a team in Santos that was all the time making a great opposition with great players.”
The Lions will need an equally gutsy effort to advance past an Inter Miami side that’s looked transformed entirely by the infusion of Messi and Busquets. Matching up with the iconic former FC Barcelona duo (and potentially Alba) presents a daunting challenge, but Pareja expressed confidence his team will be up for the occasion.
“This is a competition, man. We faced one of the best teams in Mexico today, with fantastic players,” Pareja said. “And now we knew that it was going to be moments where Santos were going to hurt us. You don’t want it, but it’s a natural thing. But we resist it, and not just resist it, but we found ways to hurt and scoring three goals against them is not an easy task.
“So we’re good. The evolution is there. We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground because this is the game. But there is certainly a lot of stuff today that we want to keep doing.”
WATCH: Orlando City book Messi showdown with Leagues Cup win