The circumstances are unprecedented and the lead-up to this moment has been challenging. But there is one enticing, reassuring certainty for Juan Agudelo and his Inter Miami CF teammates when they kick off the MLS is Back Tournament with a cross-Florida clash against Orlando City SC Wednesday night (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
Matchday is matchday, and that’s something to look forward to for just about every player on earth.
“Everybody is excited to get back to what we’ve been doing our whole careers, which is getting into a rhythm and playing games,” Agudelo told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday.
“After our first two games of the season, we want to pick up a win.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a sledgehammer to Inter’s inaugural season, forcing the postponement of their highly anticipated home debut and disrupting efforts to introduce themselves to their south Florida community.
After showing promise, but ultimately suffering defeat in visits to LAFC and D.C. United in the first two weeks of the campaign, Wednesday represents a chance to notch their first-ever victory, which would surely carry at least a bit of extra weight given the long-term outlook for an in-state rivalry with Orlando.
And the expansion club carry high expectations for MLS is Back as a whole. Head coach Diego Alonso owns a strong record in knockout tournaments, having twice won the Concacaf Champions League with Liga MX sides Pachuca and Monterrey, and the lure of the CCL qualification slot awaiting MLS is Back’s winner is strong for Miami, one of the more ambitious newcomers in recent MLS history.
“We're trying to win this tournament,” said Agudelo. “It's a big thing that we've spoken about, to play [in CCL], and it's a thing that benefits us a lot, that this tournament has that reward at the end of it … it gives us a faster way to get into Concacaf.”
Still just 27 despite the decade of top-flight soccer under his belt, Agudelo is in contention to step into Inter’s starting striker role in the wake of rookie Robbie Robinson’sdeparture from the tournament due to personal reasons. He’s also capable of manning other attacking roles in Alonso’s system and will seek to add to his career MLS total of 46 goals and 22 assists in the days ahead.
“We've been trying to develop the style that we want to play,” he said, calling Inter “a team that likes to play the ball and play some attractive football while at the same time being aggressive and dangerous.”
“So I expect a pretty speedy pace to the game,” he added, expressing optimism that Miami can dominate possession and set the tempo against an Orlando group still finding their feet under new coach Oscar Pareja.
As stressful as the past four months have been, Agudelo and his colleagues find solace in soccer, as well as the opportunity to make good use of the international exposure the MLS is Back Tournament offers.
A member of the new Black Players for Change founded in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent national conversation about racism and police brutality, Agudelo appears in a new video spot released by BPC on Tuesday and he hinted at collective expressions of support for the Black Lives Matter movement when the games get underway.
“There’s the whole thing with the virus, but there’s other things that are going on that are also motivating, like Black Lives Matter,” Agudelo said. “Of course, to use a platform where we'll be nationally televised, it’s always good to use that in any positive way possible. A lot of people that have realized that we have the power to become something more than just guys that kick a soccer ball around the field.”