There’s nothing like an inter-state rivalry to send a team on the right course – or into a funk.
Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF experienced both sides of the same coin during the Lions’ 3-1 victory Saturday night over their Florida neighbors at DRV PNK Stadium.
After alternating between wins and losses through much of the spring, Orlando carried two straight draws (against Columbus Crew and New York City FC) into some close, but hostile territory.
Saturday’s display – fueled by goals from Designated Players Ercan Kara and Martín Ojeda, as well as fullback Rafael Santos – breathed new life into the Lions, according to head coach Oscar Pareja.
“Winning the derby, beyond the three points… it means a lot,” the Colombian manager said post-game.
“We’re very happy to have such a performance here at this field against a main rival. So, we’re very proud.”
Pareja was especially proud of Ojeda, the club’s marquee offseason signing from Godoy Cruz of Argentina who came off the bench for the second straight game. The 24-year-old made the most of his 26 minutes on the field, canceling out Leonardo Campana’s equalizer with what ended up being the winning goal for the visitors.
“Bringing him from the bench today was exactly for that purpose,” Pareja said of Ojeda. “Lift his confidence, probably with a goal, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Fellow offseason signing Santos put the game away in the 86th minute with his first MLS goal – further boosting a side that was one of the winter’s biggest spenders but has floated around the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line, now sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 5W-4L-4L record.
“We are happy now, we are very optimistic and we see a lot of improvement,” Pareja said after his team scored three goals for the first time in 2023.
Pareja's colleague on the opposite bench, Miami boss Phil Neville, sang a far different tune after his club suffered their second straight loss.
“We’re angry about the last two games, really, because we’re not playing to our full potential,” Neville lamented, still sore about the six-game losing skid the Herons endured in the early part of the season. A three-game winning streak ensued, but the Herons are outside of the postseason picture looking in with a 5W-8L-0D record.
“I think we’re angry about the last two games because we’re building something, we felt we were building something and we’ve lost that momentum a little bit," Neville continued. "… It’s easy to gain momentum, it’s equally as easy to lose momentum.”
On that, Pareja fully agrees. So much so, he’s hoping Saturday’s result is a building block and gives Orlando's fans more reason to celebrate this year after the club won their first MLS-era title in 2022 in the form of the US Open Cup.
“They deserve the best,” Pareja said of the Orlando faithful. “I promise that we won’t stop working to see if we can get better and better.”
WATCH: Florida is purple! Orlando City take down Inter Miami