The Florida Cup is coming back to the Sunshine State for a second year in a row next month, with 10 matches scheduled over 11 days, including one All-Star charity event, featuring some of the most popular clubs from around the world.
Last year's tournament featured four teams -- Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Corinthians, Fluminense, and 1. FC Köln -- with three of them returning this year to be a part of the nine-team field. Matches will be spread across three locations in both central and southern Florida, with ESPN's Wide World of Sports, Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, and FAU Stadium in Boca Raton all slated to host at least one match.
With the tournament set to kick off in just over two weeks, on Jan. 10, we spoke with Florida Cup CEO Ricardo Villar about last year's Cup, this year's expectations, and his plans to build the tournament in the future.
Last year was the first edition of the Florida Cup. How do you think the tournament went last year in terms of attendance, popularity, etc.?
Ricardo Villar: The first indication of our success is having three out of four clubs returning. The other was having matches broadcast live to 127 countries around the world. The attendance was as expected, given the size of our venue in Orlando [the WWoS complex holds just over 5,000].
What are your expectations for this year's Florida Cup, given this is the second go around and people have a little bit better idea of what the tournament's about this time around?
RV: This is the consolidation year. It demanded a lot more work than last year, given the high expectations created around it. But we felt we did our homework and the positive result will come.
Chicharito, arguably one of the biggest stars in the world as the face of the Mexican national team -- and with Bayer Leverkusen right now -- will be coming to town. How do you think his presence will help the growth of the tournament this year?
RV: A great deal. It involves the local Mexican population, who does not have an actual club representing their country. Plus, the fact he is on fire lately helps, of course. One thing is watching your idol play. Another is watching him play in top form!
There are nine teams participating this year, up from the four teams last year. How big you want to see this tournament grow, as in the number of teams participating on a yearly basis?
RV: Our plan is to stick to eight and create a playoff elimination format. But we have to play it by the international agendas of the leagues every year. This year was impossible to have all the teams together here at once.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are the only American team participating this year. Was there an attempt to grab more American teams (as an Orlando City blog, I should ask if there was any attempt to get them involved)?
RV: Orlando City was invited to participate, along with the Strikers. But the idea is to have one or maximum two American clubs each year.
Does the timing of the tournament, taking place before MLS preseason opens up, hurt MLS clubs' ability to participate? And would you consider moving the tournament to accommodate them?
RV: No, the period cannot be accommodated. These international leagues start their games by the last week of January, first week of February. The MLS would need to adapt their season break, which is way too long. None of the major leagues give its players more than six to seven weeks vacation.
So this year you guys have brought in the All-Star Game. Can you tell us more about that? What kind of players can we expect to be playing in the match?
RV: The All-Star Game was introduced as an idea to engage local charities and create a special day for the kids. Former international stars are confirming their participation for the cause. Names will be released in the upcoming days.
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Special thanks to Ricardo Villar for taking the time to answer these questions for us, and be sure to stay tuned right here at The Mane Land throughout the tournament for coverage of the 2016 Florida Cup.