Black Players for Change held pregame observation for eight minutes in honor of George Floyd
Orlando City kicked off the MLS is Back tournament with a victory on Wednesday night in Central Florida.
Nani’s stoppage time goal gave Orlando City a 2-1 win over Inter Miami. The 97th minute goal also afforded Orlando City bragging rights over their in-state rival in the first contest between the two clubs.
The result was Orlando City’s first come-from-behind win since May 19, 2019. FC Cincinnati scored first, but the Lions scored five, including two from Nani, to humiliate the expansion side 5-1.
Orlando’s win concluded the first match of a five-week tournament that will serve as the restart to the MLS season after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to kickoff, players from all 26 MLS clubs stood on Field No. 17 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports on a knee, or with their arms raised, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
Floyd died from his injuries on May 25. In the time since then MLS has supported the Black Lives Matter movement and the quest for racial equality and equity in American society.
Last month, Black Players for Change was created by more than 170 players within MLS to provide a voice, and an outlet, for Major League Soccer players and front offices to end systemic racism within the sport and in their communities.
“This is a chance for us to take our place with (other sports leagues)…stand up and fight that battle,” said Justin Morrow, executive director of Black Players for Change and a fullback for Toronto FC at halftime of the Orlando City-Inter Miami match.
On the pitch, the match had spurts where both teams controlled the gameplay, but could not conjure an end product.
The best chance in the first half came when former U.S. international Juan Agudelo missed a clear chance from six yards away in the 19th minute. The Inter Miami forward would later make amends for the miss, scoring the opener shortly after halftime.
Inter Miami’s ascension in the early minutes of the second half came to a sudden standstill.
In the 51st minute, Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer clattered into Inter Miami defender Andrés Reyes. The 20-year-old Colombian immediately fell to the ground clutching his neck.
Reyes appeared to struggle to breathe. He was stretchered off the field after seven minutes and reportedly taken to an Orlando-area hospital.
Reyes’ entanglement with Dwyer was the fourth time on the night the Orlando City forward committed a physical challenge against a Herons player. Dwyer was penalized for two of those challenges, but was not cautioned by referee Rubiel Vazquez.
Designated Player Rodolfo Pizarro came on for Reyes. Reyes’ departure, and the Herons’ concern for the 20-year-old, extinguished whatever energy Agudelo’s 47th minute opener provided.
Before Reyes departed, Orlando City was making inroads attacking down its left. Nani was stationed as a winger in the Lions’ 4-3-3 system and fullback Joao Moutinho gave the legendary winger room to operate down the left.
Those efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Nani rolled a hopeful ball across the goalmouth. Chris Mueller stabbed it home for the equalizer — the second time this season Mueller has equalized.
Orlando City wasn’t finished. The Lions nearly had a second in the 76th minute when Mueller placed a cross onto the forehead of Tesho Akindele; but, the forward managed to miss the frame of the goal from six yards.
The match opened up in the final 15 minutes, and the hosts took advantage of the gaps and lapses in concentration. Deep into stoppage time, which was required because of Reyes’ injury, the Lions whipped in another ball from the left. The hopeful cross bounced off Inter Miami’s Nico Figal and into Nani’s path.
The Portuguese winger wasn’t going to miss.
Orlando City improved to 5-1-4 when Nani scores a goal. More importantly, the Lions are off to a roaring start in the MLS is Back tournament.