Waiting for tonight's Inter Miami matchup at New York City FC, my mind wandered to CONCACAF Champions League and its importance to soccer in the United States. Actually, I was thinking how excited I am for Orlando City SC's match against Mexican giant Tigres.
The Lions have a chance to win that tie thanks to goalkeeper Pedro Gallese's magnificent 8-save performance in a scoreless draw last week. Gallese lived up to his nickname, "El Pulpo" -- the Octopus -- and put Orlando in position to eliminate the region's wealthiest club in what would be one of the greatest upsets in recent CONCACAF Champions League history.
Inter Miami is my team; I love La Rosanegra with all my heart. But come Wednesday, I will root for Orlando City.
Yes, I understand the Lions are our rivals, the bad guys, our Sunshine Clasico nemesis. They don't like us, and we don't like them. The teams have played 10 matches, nine times in MLS and one U.S. Open Cup thriller that Orlando City won on penalty kicks. The Purple have five wins in the series, all by a goal or less.. Two of Miami's three wins also were one-score differences, while the surging Herons beat Orlando 4-1 in the teams' last meeting.
How can I set that aside, why would I set that aside? Shouldn't we always long for and revel in the failure of our adversaries?
No. Here are two reasons why I'll root for Orlando City (and every other MLS team in CCL), and why you should, too:
1. To continue building Major League Soccer's reputation. MLS is not highly respected in the soccer world. We are not the best professional league in our region and we are not the best supported league even in our own nation. Liga MX plays higher quality soccer and its clubs are (almost) always favored against MLS sides, while Liga MX and the English Premier League continue to draw better TV ratings and better attendance figures when they play in the States than our top domestic league). We should want that to change.
2. For Inter Miami's greater glory. Rivalries -- in any league, in any sport -- are ALWAYS better when both parties are successful. Think about great sports rivalries: Dodgers-Yankees, Celtics-Lakers, Duke-North Carolina...none of these matchups would transcend their individual sports if MOST of their meetings were lopsided or lacked title implications. Thankfully for sports fans, these teams regularly reach the pinnacle of their sports. I want Inter Miami to become to MLS what the Celtics are to the NBA or the Yankees are to baseball, and if steel sharpens steel -- if having a worthy adversary helps push the Herons to the next level -- then Orlando City might as well join us in this journey.
The Lions host Tigres in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie beginning at 8:15 p.m. EDT Wednesday at Exploria Stadium. Fox Sports and TUDN are televising the match.