National Writer: Charles Boehm

Luis Suárez answers critics as Miami thrash Orlando: "None of us were concerned"


Perhaps the reports of Luis Suárez’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

After some labored moments – and no goals scored – in his first two matches with Inter Miami CF, the Uruguayan legend drew substantial criticism. Some observers wondered if his much-discussed knee troubles had fundamentally hampered him, threatening to blight his romantic south Florida reunion with Lionel Messi and their old FC Barcelona colleagues Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

But El Pistolero played like a man with a point to prove at Chase Stadium on Saturday afternoon, scoring the game’s first two goals, then adding two assists and playing a game-high four key passes as the Herons destroyed their Florida rivals Orlando City SC, 5-0, to extend their unbeaten start to the 2024 campaign.

“The striker, the soccer player, has to get used to living with criticism day after day,” Suárez told Miami Total Futbol's Franco Panizo with a flash of a smile in the postgame mixed zone. “People in soccer don't have memories, that’s how it is. In that sense, I am very used to it. I have been in professional football for almost 20 years and I don’t worry about the things that are said.”

Complete game

The match was practically an infomercial for the ‘Messi and Friends’ project: the most lopsided victory in IMCF’s five-year history, effectively wrapped up by halftime after the woefully flat visitors were blitzed for three goals in the game’s first half-hour.

“There were many aspects of the game that we managed well, but overall I’d highlight how organized we were in the process, how fast and certain we were in transition, and the assertiveness we had,” said head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino. “I think we also had a defensive resurgence. Honestly, the team played a great game.

“It may have been our most complete game since I began coaching Inter Miami,” Martino later added.

Miami were indeed razor-sharp in their counter-pressing and counterattacks, as the Messi-Suárez-Robert Taylor attacking trident flashed a menacing collective chemistry, aided by the service of Julian Gressel, who assisted on both Suárez strikes and played him the decisive through ball that led to Taylor’s tap-in.

“With those guys, it's really not about being inch-perfect,” Gressel told Area Sports Net postgame. “It's about just getting them into good spots and then they'll do the rest.”

Patience rewarded

Speaking to MLS Season Pass’ Diego Valeri on the pitch after the final whistle, Messi pointed to the importance of the early advantage that hamstrung any hopes OCSC might have had of clogging up the match with their usual organization and bite.

“We knew we had to come out with a lot of intensity today because that’s what’s required against Orlando: a lot of bodies crashing, sitting in, waiting to counter,” said the Argentine in Spanish. “The first goal opened up the game. Obviously the counter was on and we took it really well.”

Whatever doubts the outside world may have had about Suárez, Messi said there were no concerns in the Herons' locker room.

“I’m really happy for him that he was able to score, but none of us were concerned about that. We know what Luis is all about and what he’s capable of doing, I think everyone does,” he said. “When you least expect it, he can finish a game for you with his goals and assists.”

Script flipped

Orlando were a worthy adversary during Messi’s early days in Miami, a Leagues Cup Round-of-32 duel last August that IMCF won 3-1, but with ample controversy and contentiousness, including a rumbling clash between Messi and Lions midfielder César Araújo.

This meeting was a whole different story. While Messi’s tenacity was palpable, OCSC simply weren’t up for the fight, as coach Oscar Pareja conceded afterward.

“From minute one to the end of the game, it didn’t look like us in many areas,” said Pareja. “Obviously a team like them, you cannot permit to have that many spaces and lose that many duels and give them that possibility to be sitting in our box on those counterattacks. Really disappointed. But we’re pushing as a group. You know that I have a big respect for this group, their professionalism and what they do. If there is any responsibility we will search to find answers, but this group’s professionalism will never be in doubt

“They were better than us and we didn’t do a good job today. We didn’t show up today,” he added. “And we will take that responsibility. It’s a very bad day to say it, for our fans and the derby, but we have personality and responsibility.”

Statement made?

That said, as Martino took care to note, Orlando were one of MLS’s elite teams in 2023, which wrapped Saturday’s win in an even greater sense of possibility for a Miami side gradually beginning to match up to the hype.

“We are going to prepare ourselves to fight for the MLS title,” said Messi. “We know that is a long journey and it's just getting started, but the reality is that all of us are conscious that we have a group ready to compete and we are going to go for it. It is also important that we start the season off well, especially in the first few games because then the league will pause [in the summer], and other tournaments will begin.

“It’s really good to arrive with a little breathing room at this checkpoint that we set for ourselves, to start off in this manner and get the most points possible before tournaments like Copa América, Leagues Cup, and everything that is yet to come.”