In this week's special International Intelligence Report, we sit down with Austin Miller of FutnSoccer.com to talk about Saturday's opponent, Associação Atlética Ponte Preta of Brazil.
While it may just be a friendly, we're taking Ponte Preta seriously and looking for any edge we can get. There's no one better to provide that advantage than Austin, who covers Brazilian soccer for FutnSoccer and runs a Twitter account dedicated to all things Campeonato Brasileiro. Give him a follow at @austin_james906.
Who are three Ponte Preta players that Orlando City fans should watch out for?
Ponte Preta is a team that doesn't have one distinct player to watch out for, so the next Brazilian superstar isn't on this team. Despite that, Ponte is a strong team with a number of interesting, if not incredible, players.
It starts with Mattheus Inácio in net. Mattheus was acquired at the start of the campaign from Bragantino, a lower-tier Brazilian side. He's manned the nets for the majority of the season so far, and though he hasn't been spectacular, he has been solid between the sticks.
At just 20 years old, Biro Biro, a loanee from Brazilian giants Fluminense, leads the team in goals so far this campaign with 6, including a nice second touch volley against Santos.
The third player has yet to suit up for Ponte, but that's recently acquired Diego Oliveira, who was signed from São Paulo minnows Linense following a strong performance in the Paulistão group stages. I'm not sure what type of lineup Ponte will put out there on Saturday, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Diego on the pitch to make his team debut.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
Ponte Preta played a 4-4-2 throughout the majority of the Paulistão, preferring to sit back and defend against stronger opponents while looking for counter-attacks and set pieces to do damage on offense. The defensive strategy is pretty straightforward: Ponte will allow stronger opponents possession while keeping a large number of players behind the ball.
How has Ponte Preta done in the Brasileiro this year?
For those unaware, football in Brazil works a bit differently than in the rest of the world as far as the league structure. The beginning of the calendar year (January-May) is spent playing in state competitions, before the national league, the Brasileiro, begins in May and then runs through early December.
Ponte Preta is located in Campinas, about 100 km from São Paulo and plays in the Paulistão, the state league of São Paulo along with giants Palmeiras, Santos, São Paulo, and Corinthians. Ponte finished second in their group with 8 wins over 15 matches, before losing 1-0 in a tough match to Corinthians in the quarterfinals.
Ponte will compete in the Brasileiro Série A this year after finishing second in the Brasileiro Série B last season to gain promotion. Ponte's best wins this season are a 1-0 triumph early in the season against a Palmeiras side struggling to incorporate a plethora of new signings, and a 3-1 victory over Santos.
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team?
Although they are one of Brasil's oldest sides, Ponte Preta won't wow you with an overtly Brazilian style of football.
This isn't a side that will dance around you with phenomenal technique, or impress you with incredible individual performances. Ponte is a solid squad that is very good at punishing their opponent's mistakes. Ponte constantly puts balls into the box, looking to convert through aerial plays and set pieces.
The danger with Ponte Preta is giving away a set piece in a bad location, something Santos learned the hard way in their 3-1 defeat.
What's your predictions for Saturday?
Ponte Preta is in an awkward situation ahead of this match.
The team will be racking up the frequent flyer miles, with this match in Orlando followed by a match on Thursday in São Luís, which sits on the northern coast of Brasil, against Moto Club in the second round of the Copa do Brasil.
Next Sunday, action in the Brasileiro will kick off, as Ponte travel to Porto Alegre in the far south of Brasil to take on Grêmio. Staying alive in the Copa do Brasil should be priority number one for Ponte Preta, as it is their best shot at a title this season, and an elusive Copa Libertadores berth.
Getting off to a good start in the Brasileiro against Grêmio is priority number two, but will also a be difficult task. Clearly, Ponte could use some club-wide momentum, which could be gained with a strong performance this weekend in Orlando, but winning the match is far from the top of their agenda.
Don't be surprised if Ponte trots out a side of backups and youngsters in an attempt to preserve players ahead of two big matches coming up this week. With that said, there will certainly be motivation for the players Ponte does play. The Brazilian campaign is a long, tiring one that favors deep teams, and players getting a shot this weekend will be eager to show that they deserve consideration to be a part of the regular squad rotations.
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Huge thanks to Austin Miller for giving us the inside scoop on Ponte Preta!