Sunshine Classico: Inter Miami meets Orlando City on Sunday without Messi, Alba; could move closer to playoff spot

The Herons are focused on having their key players as fit as possible for Wednesday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship match, hoping to add the second major trophy of the year to their mantel. Still, Inter Miami has a roster full of good young talent capable of beating second-place Orlando City (50 points with five MLS matches remaining).
Orlando City SC forward Facundo Torres spins away from a defender during Wednesday’s match at New York City FC.
Orlando City SC forward Facundo Torres spins away from a defender during Wednesday’s match at New York City FC. / John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Even with Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba sidelined with what are reportedly minor physical issues, the renewal of the Sunshine Classico made writer Casey Dunau’s “Big Three” matches to watch. Here’s why:

" Inter Miami are one of the most exciting teams in the league even down a star or two…."

Casey Duneau,

The Herons are five points behind D.C. United for ninth place in the Eastern Conference and an invitation to the Major League Soccer playoffs. A win and a little help could pull Inter Miami to within two points with five matches left to play.

Or, resting Messi and Alba against in-form intrastate rival Orlando City could cost La Rosa Negra a win and leave the Fort Lauderdale outfit virtually eliminated from postseason contention, as many as eight points back.

This match largely depends on Herons’ coach Tata Martino’s plan for Wednesday’s final. Messi and Alba aren’t the only players who need rested; the deep Leagues Cup run, and playing through an international break that saw nine Inter Miami players called up to national-team duty, has taxed the team’s roster.

Expect Tata to save his best 11 for the Open Cup championship. The Orlando City match is important in the context of the quest for a playoffs, an iffy situation even if the Herons win tomorrow, but it ultimately is one installment in a 34-part serial. The playoff dream will survive a loss to the Lions, but a trophy is a tangible success, a physical reminder that Inter Miami can win. And it’s been my hope for the Herons since learning of Messi’s decision to come to South Florida.

Below is a look at some of the matches impacting Inter Miami’s postseason charge, and the teams for which Herons’ fans are rooting today:

Charlotte (12th, 33 points) at FC Cincinnati (1st, 59): First-place and Supporter’s Shield favorite Cincinnati should take all three points.

Red Bulls (14th, 31) at D.C. United (9th, 36): New York/New Jersey Energy Drink FC, please.

Toronto (15th, 22) at NYCFC (10th, 34): The Pigeons have a real chance to officially eliminate Toronto.

New England (5th, 48) at Chicago (11th, 33): In form Revs are favored at home.