Preview: Inter Miami CF (h).
When? Saturday September 12 at 4.30 p.m. PT, 7.30 p.m. ET and 12:30 a.m. (13/9) BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+, DAZN, CBS4 (Miami), UniMas Miami and Fox 35 for residents of the United States. Sky Sports Football in the United Kingdom. The game is also available via radio locally (check local listings).
I spoke, in my preview for the last match against Fort Lauderdale ,that Diego Alonso's team were struggling to establish their identity. And it showed during the MLS Is Back tournament. They are a different kettle of fish now, though. They are a team that is growing in confidence, and they are beginning to show glimpses of real quality. They will also be motivated for this game. It's the first game, in this rivalry, that will be played in front of spectators. They're going to want to stomp us in our own back yard. We can't allow that. Jeez, we'd never hear the end of it.
Fort Lauderdale are a team that want to get the ball forward, wide and into dangerous areas. And there is one man who is going to be critical in that regard, moving forward. Pardon the pun. And that man is: Blaise Matuidi. The Frenchman is an excellent distributor of the ball. He is as forward thinking as a defensive minded midfielder can be, at least in terms of his passing. He's not exactly a lung-busting, Frank Lampardesque, goal-scoring midfielder. But his footballing brain is as sharp as any in this league. He will make them tick.
Matuidi has only made 2 appearances for Beckham FC so far (1 start, 1 substitute appearance). He's coming into the game well rested. He has big game experience and a deadly eye for a pass. It will be so important for Orlando City's midfielders, particularly Mauricio Pereyra or Junior Urso in the 10, to get right on top of him. Don't let him have time on the ball, whilst the likes of Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez will need to shut down the passing lanes for the likes of Pizarro. It could be the key to victory.
Matuidi had an 83% pass completion across 336 minutes played at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The guy is exceptionally good at finding his man. And has done so at the elite level, so it stands to reason he could do the same in MLS. For that matter, he has already begun to do so. In figure 1 you'll note his passing areas from his first MLS start against Nashville. He gets all over the pitch. As I alluded to earlier, he excels at finding his teammates in dangerous areas. If you study the passing network graphic in figure 2 you'll notice the frequency with which he tried to find Ben Sweat and Juan Agudelo in particular, when those two players took up advanced positions. He doesn't just keep the ball ticking over. He tries to hurt you with it.
Whilst Fort Lauderdale are by no means a one man team, we didn't have to deal with his considerable threat in our previous two meetings this season. As such, it needs to be highlighted.
Figure 1 shows Blaise Matuidi's passing areas from their game against Nashville (he was rested against Atlanta).
Figure 2 Fort Lauderdale's passing network graphic highlights how often Matuidi was looking to play the ball between the lines to Lewis Morgan, Pizarro et al.
Orlando City will continue to be without Dom Dwyer and Matheus Aiás. Joao Moutinho continues to recover from the injury he suffered in Atlanta. Kamal Miller will, likely, continue to deputise in his place. Nani came off the bench against Atlanta. The superstar is nursing a slight groin injury. It remains to be seen what his involvement will be in this game.
As for the visitors, they continue to be without George Acosta (left knee), David Norman Jr. (left ankle) and Denso Ulysse (left leg). Lee Nguyen was recently transferred back to New England, and World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi is now available for selection.
Possible starting XI
I anticipate a handful of changes from their win over Atlanta. Against the 5 shites (dammit), Brek Shea started on the left of their front 3. I think Miami will opt for pace in Matías Pellegrini and try to utilise any space Ruan leaves when bombing forward. I say that because I can see Oscar Pareja reverting to Chris Mueller on the right for ourselves, following a rest week. That should allow Ruan to resume his rampaging runs down the wing.
I can also see Blaise Matuidi coming in from the start. The Frenchman started the Atlanta game on the bench and will thus be feeling somewhat rested. His distribution and range of passing is going to be key.
The French World Cup winner will be looking to hit the ground running in MLS. The midfielder has had a glittering, trophy laden, career to date. Having clocked up 500 career appearances for Troyes, Saint-Étienne, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. He brings a wealth of quality and experience to this Fort Lauderdale team. He's won multiple league titles with PSG and Juve, whilst playing alongside some of the game's greatest players. Defensively disciplined and with excellent distribution, Orlando will need to get on top of him to emerge victorious.
Fort Lauderdale travel to the City Beautiful following on from a win over a hapless Atlanta United. Diego Alonso's team are now 2-2-6 on the season, and are languishing in 13th place in the east. David Beckham and co. will be hoping that Blaise Matuidi's introduction will jumpstart this season; against an Orlando team that is unbeaten in the 4 games since Fort Lauderdale's maiden Florida Derby win.
After giving up 3 points in injury time against Atlanta, Orlando City will be looking to get back to winning ways against their nearest rivals. The Lions are 4-4-2 on the season and sitting pretty in 3rd place. Oscar Pareja's team are also 2nd leading scorers in the east. They will be hoping to add to their tally in this one.
Line up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com