For the first since 2002 when the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were in operation, an MLS season will include two teams from Florida.
“It will improve the passion of this league,” Nani recently told CNN about Orlando facing Inter Miami. “It’s very important to have these kinds of games. They give more motivation to the players because there’s more quality to do the maximum. I’m so excited that I cannot wait for this first derby. But for sure it will be a great game for the fans, for us the players, because we need to provoke good energy and a good environment for the game and give the fans the passion they like.”
The first Florida derby arrives July 10, when the Lions host Inter Miami at Exploria Stadium. As fellow Eastern Conference clubs, they’ll also square off Aug. 20 at the newcomers’ stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
During their first five years in MLS, Orlando’s biggest rival has arguably been Atlanta United, a club they hold an 0-7-2 record against. Miami, due to proximity, could feasibly enter the conversation.
As excitement builds for those games, Nani is also focused on the broader project at Orlando under new head coach Oscar Pareja and Luiz Muzzi, the club’s EVP of soccer operations. They’ve had a busy offseason on the transfer market, notably bringing in midfielder Junior Urso, goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and center back Antonio Carlos.The Lions are still seeking their first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
“I think the focus is to build a strong team who can compete with the best teams in MLS, and from there see where our ambitions can be,” Nani said. “But without a strong team, you cannot dream or put your targets where we want."
Check out the entire CNN interview with Nani here.