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Inter Miami, Orlando City relaunch MLS with protest, dramatic clash

Inter Miami, Orlando City relaunch MLS with protest, dramatic clash
Orlando City SC forward Nani had a goal and an assist in the second half to lead his squad to a 2-1 win against Inter Miami CF in the MLS is Back Tournament opener Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. Photo courtesy of Orlando City SC

July 9 (UPI) -- Inter Miami CF, Orlando City SC, referees and coaches participated in a long protest for George Floyd before they launched the MLS is Back Tournament with a dramatic clash in Orlando, Fla.

The tournament opener marked the return for the league, which was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The protest, which lasted for more than five minutes, featured some players who knelt in a circle at midfield, while other players surrounded them and stood as they held up their fists and wore a black glove on one hand. Players also wore shirts that read "Black and Proud" and "Silence is Violence" prior to the first MLS game since Floyd's May 25 death.

Floyd was killed while handcuffed and pinned to the ground by police in Minneapolis. Prosecutors said Floyd was pinned for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a similar time period as the MLS protest.

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Players again took a knee after the opening whistle before they played to a scoreless first half. Both squads looked a bit rusty after the nearly four-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic. Each team missed several chances to score and players showed a lack of ball control early on.

Orlando City then staged a late comeback to secure three points with a 2-1 triumph at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Inter Miami finally broke the deadlock in the 47th minute. Striker Juan Agudelo -- who missed a point-blank chance in the first half -- made up for his mistake with a beautiful backdoor run. Agudelo snuck behind the Orlando City defense during the sequence before he got a quick pass in front of the net from midfielder Victor Ulloa. The Inter Miami forward finished the play with a shot into the left side of the net.

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Then, Orlando City's Portuguese star Nani, came alive. The striker assisted Chris Mueller for the equalizer in the 70th minute before he netted the game-winner in stoppage time. Nani raced up the left flank and blazed by a defender to set up the equalizer. He finished the play with a left footed cross just in front of Inter Miami keeper Luis Robles. The ball found Mueller as he slid for a shot into the far-post netting.

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Nani was in the right place at the right time for his winner. Orlando City sent a cross into the Inter Miami box on that play. Nani jumped for a header but the pass sailed over his head. The ball was then deflected away by the defense but it landed at Nani's feet just as he landed. He finished the play with a one-touch shot into the right side of the net.

"We're never happy when we lose," Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso said. "We hope to play better in the next match.

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"We had some good moments, but I think we can play better to be able to win matches."

Inter Miami will continue the tournament with a game against Chicago Fire FC at 9 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Orlando. Orlando City will play New York City FC at 10:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Orlando.

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