Preview: Inter Fort Lauderdale (h).
When? Friday August 27, 5.30 p.m. PT, 8.30 p.m. ET and 01.30 BST (28/8).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN Deportes and ESPN. The game is available locally, via radio on 96.9 The Game, Accion 97.9 FM and 810 AM. The match is being broadcast on Sky Sports Football for us UK folk.
Well, well, well. It's that time again. It's another 'hunting Herons' week. Time to stomp all over Inter Fort Lauderdale. In another week where my Twitter feed is full of 'Mickey Mouse FC' references, I can't help but feel a little melancholy. I hate to say it, but I miss Atlanta sometimes. At least with their supporters there's an originality to their banter and their insults. Sure, you get the odd 'Mickey Mouse' themed insult, but there's usually a bit more to it than that. Inter Fort Lauderdale don't seem to have anything else in their repertoire. The funniest thing is, you know everyone of them is an annual pass holder at the House of Mouse. Sure, keep comparing us to a multi-million dollar media conglomerate. As a former Cast Member and Disney Vacation Club member myself, I'm cool with it.
In all seriousness, however, this is going to be another tough game for Orlando City; as much as it kills me to admit it. Whilst I still hold true to my belief that Phil Neville has all the tactical acumen of a tortoise, their has been something of a renaissance occuring in Pompano Beach. A run of 1 defeat in 7 has restored at least of modicum of belief that the actual play-offs are achievable for this team in 2021. I myself am not yet convinced, but to think this game is going to be easy is a misguided belief at best.
Inter Miami's style
Whilst it's still difficult to truly ascertain what the style of this team is, there are some interesting facets to their play coming to the surface. In recent weeks, this team seems more defensively resolute. In their recent win over Toronto, the Flamingos, Penguins, or whatever the hell they are, won 21 tackles. In their defeat to NYCFC they won 19. The challenge for Phil Neville is going to be honing that defensive resolve on a consistent basis. Sandwiched between the two aforementioned games, was a win over Chicago when they won only 8 tackles and conceded twice. See what I mean?
Fort Lauderdale also seem to have found their shooting boots lately, having scored 11 times in their last 6 games. This little scoring spree of theirs has seen their XG improve to 1.36 (figure 1) from 0.89 prior to their last visit to Disney Wor.. I mean Orlando. That being said, of their 11 goals in the last 6, 10 have been at home. Their away XG is 0.75 still, and have only scored in 37% of their away games in 2021. Let's not talk about where that 1 away goal was scored by the way. Forget it ever happened. Just as Disney did with the Star Wars Extended Universe. What? Exactly.
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Their width is probably their strongest attribute right now, particularly down the left hand side. Bizarrely, to many of us in England, Kieran Gibbs is a huge part of that. Against Toronto 43% (figure 2) of Fort Lauderdale's attacks came down the left flank, with Gibbs rampaging up and down (figure 3). Gibbs played 32 passes and had 40 touches down that left flank. He was a constant threat; just as he was at Exploria a few weeks ago. If Ruan plays, the battle for supremacy on that side could be fascinating.
Figure 1 shows Inter Fort Lauderdale's scoring statistics on the season so far.
Figure 2 shows how Inter Fort Lauderdale's attacks (against Toronto) were centred down the left.
Figure 3 shows Kieran Gibbs' heatmap (against Toronto), whole 90.
Fort Lauderdale have a number of injury concerns heading into this game. Ian Fray, Joevin Jones, Ryan Shawcross and Ventura Alvarado are all listed as out. Rudolfo Pizzarro took place in the All-Star game for some reason, so we'll see if Phil Neville opts to include the Mexican international in Orlando.
Similarly, it remains to be seen whether Nani or Pedro Gallese will be involved, following their exploits in Los Angeles. Daryl Dike is back in full training, despite reported transfer interest from Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion. Andres Perea, Alexandre Pato and Sebas Mendez are back in individual training, but are likely to miss out. Uri Rosell and Mauricio Pereyra are listed as questionable.
Possible starting XI
Fort Lauderdale has been having some success with the 3-4-3 formation of late, so it's hard to imagine that they'll deviate from that. That being said, I'd be surprised if Blaise Matuidi didn't return. And given Rudolfo Pizzarro's potential non-involvement, I can see the pace of Julián Carranza coming back in:
Higuaín has had something of a resurgence in form overall, having notched 8 goals and laid on 4 assists in 2021. He's scoreless in his last 3 games, however. Despite that fact, he has begun to show at least a fraction of the quality that, at a time, made him one of the most feared forwards in Europe. He boasts a 22.9% conversion rate from 35 shots, with 24 being on target. His overall XG stats stand at 6.23 on the season so far. He has an overall rating of 7.41/10 so far this season according to infogol.net. There's improvement, but you still get the feeling there's more to come from him. His exclusion from the All-Star roster is perhaps indicative of his overall standing in MLS right now.
Inter Fort Lauderdale have only suffered 1 defeat in their last 7, and are currently 6-4-9 on the season, having climbed to 11th spot. Despite their improvement, it's difficult to mount a serious argument in support of their ability to make the play-offs (you know, the real ones).
Orlando City, meanwhile, are currently unbeaten in their last 4. The win over Chicago came off the back of 3 consecutive draws. Their 9-7-4 record has them sat 2nd in the east, with a game in hand over the 3rd placed Philadelphia Union.
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com
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