It was about as pretty as you could script it for Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup.
The Herons rocked Atlanta United 4-0 to win Group J (South 3) with a maximum of six points after earlier defeating Cruz Azul.
Inter Miami (Q)
Now the Herons have to wait to see who they will host in the first knockout game of the tournament next week.
Let’s break it down.
A Familiar Foe Could Be Waiting for Inter Miami
Under the revamped structure of the Leagues Cup, the top team from each group advances and earns a home game in the first round of the knockout stage.
The second-place team from each group also advances and has to travel to the winner of their closest group.
Both Los Angeles FC and Pachuca earned automatic berths into the knockout stage by way of being the top-seeded team from Major League Soccer and Liga MX.
After the first two rounds of group matches, four teams have qualified for the knockout round besides LAFC and Pachuca — Club Leon, Philadelphia Union, Mazatlan and Inter Miami.
For Inter Miami, they will draw the winner of South 2, which has Houston Dynamo, Orlando City and Santos Laguna.
In the first match of group play, Orlando City defeated Houston on penalties and Houston followed up by knocking off Santos Laguna on penalties four days later.
So, Houston leads the group on three points with Orlando second on two points and Santos Laguna in third with one point.
The last match of that group stage is when Orlando hosts Santos Laguna at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
That means there is a chance Inter Miami’s in-state rivals could make a trip to DRV PNK Stadium next week for the first knockout round match.
Inter Miami’s Opponent Scenarios
Here is where it gets a little complicated as it’s not for sure that Orlando City will be the Herons’ next opponent.
If the Lions win in regulation or on penalties — there is no extra time in Leagues Cup play. If the teams are tied after 90 minutes, the game is decided on a penalty shootout — they will overtake Houston, win the group and travel to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami.
Now, if Santos Laguna manages to beat Orlando City in regulation, Orlando is out and Santos Laguna would advance to face the Herons while Houston would take the second spot and take on Pachuca.
The third scenario would be if Santos beats Orlando City in a penalty shootout, it will come down to tiebreakers to determine who advances. The first of those tiebreakers is goals scored — right now all three teams sit at zero since none of them have scored in regulation.
A shootout bodes well for Orlando City as the club is 8-0 in penalty shootouts — including the one against Houston in the Leagues Cup.
However, Orlando City and Santos Laguna do have some history as they played each other in the 2021 iteration of the Leagues Cup — Santos came away with a 1-0 win.
Santos is 1-1-1 in the 2023 Apertura and last won the Clausura title in 2018. Orlando, on the other hand, is fifth in the Eastern Conference, one point back of Nashville and a point up on Columbus.
Either way, Inter Miami will host someone on August 2 at DRV PNK Stadium.