The debut of Inter Miami CF in Major League Soccer was more than six years in the making. Any actual result, win lose or draw, would have surely been a delight for the Miami faithful.
But when Lee Nguyen stood over a 96th-minute free kick, then followed up with a shot on goal moments later, those fans had to be dreaming of a point.
The excitement, the exhilaration and the possibility was all there for Inter Miami CF on Sunday night. The only thing missing was a goal.
Los Angeles FC, spearheaded by a solid defensive performance and led by a moment of brilliance from Carlos Vela, defeated Inter Miami 1-0 to give the RosaNegra an ignoble welcome to MLS.
All things considered, it was about as good as Inter Miami management could have hoped for. LAFC, the Supporters’ Shield holders, were coming off a season that included everything except a MLS Cup. Manager Bob Bradley and Mexican national Vela set the regular-season standard last season. It’s a standard for new clubs like Inter Miami CF to chase.
“Against maybe the best team in the league we gave a tremendous picture today of what we can become,” Inter Miami CF manager Diego Alonso said after the match. “With only six weeks of work, the merit is certainly from the footballers for what we have done today and the work they have done.”
Captain Luis Robles made the first key save of his Inter Miami career in the fifth minute, the first of eight total. Robles was key for Inter, keeping the team in the match as the attack began to grow as the game went on.
The first significant attack from Miami came in the 19th minute. A clever ball from Rodolfo Pizarro was equaled by another ball from Lewis Morgan, which found the foot of Matías Pellegrini. The shot was blocked, and the corner it produced was all for naught.
Ultimately, though, it was the moment of brilliance from Vela that made the difference on the day. LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer played a long ball to forward Diego Rossi beyond the halfway line. Rossi, with just a single touch, was able to play the ball over Inter defender Ben Sweat and to the chest of Vela. Vela again went over Sweat, then went through Nicolas Figal and Roman Torres. He crossed up Alvas Powell, and sensing his opportunity, chipped Robles, who was stuck in no-man’s land. It was a moment of utter brilliance for the defending MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner.
There were other opportunities for Miami, but the moment of brilliance that powered Vela never appeared. Vermeer was tested, but never beyond the breaking point. First-game jitters and chemistry will certainly be areas of focus for manager Diego Alonso to focus on in training.
But the deed is done. The team has debuted. And now, instead of club talking points being tied to bureaucratic wrangling or years of uncertainty, there is a result to talk about. For tonight at least, that might be enough to celebrate on its own. And Alonso celebrated the fans after the match.
“Our fans have really been amazing. I want to make a special mention to them. The support we have had has been tremendous in each of the days that have passed before the start of the league and today they have been fantastic. We dedicate our effort and our heart to them, everything we do in the league is going to be dedicated to them.”