To say Ricadro Villar is proud of how much Florida Cup has grown is putting it lightly. From his opening remarks at yesterdays Florida Cup press conference, the former FC Dallas midfielder was brimming with pride about how three teams from last year's tournament have returned -- and how, through a collaborative effort with various organizations around Orlando, the Florida Cup has attracted football fans from around the world.
According to Villar, the tournament is "the main preparation location in the world for preseason."
Villar said Florida Cup matches will be shown live in 171 countries and he attributes that to including clubs like Santa Fe, which just won the South American Cup, playing against Bayer 04 Leverkusen, which has star players like Chicharito, in the opening round -- as well as the Ronaldo-owned Fort Lauderdale Strikers squaring off against Schalke 04, which has been in the UEFA Champions League three of the last four years. Villar also mentioned the economic impact that having international fans and teams has had on the area. He said the tourney has drawn more than $2 million in just hotel reservations before the tournament started.
Villar also wants the Florida Cup to be an event off the pitch as well. Star players from all the clubs will be participating in a shootout at the Orlando Magic-Washington Wizards game. Players will also participate in the Disney parade. On Jan.14, Villar will host an open panel focusing on youth development, which will include various elements from the participating clubs. Finally, Villar alluded to a soccer simulator that fans will be able to utilize at ESPN's Wide World of Sports facility.
After Villar spoke at the presser, he turned it over to Internacional FC's Luiz Henrique Nuñez, who emphasized how important these matches are and how Florida Cup provides an opportunity to play against clubs like Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro, which finished first and second in Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, respectively. These sentiments were echoed by Daniel Nepomuceno from Atletico Minero and Peter Seimsen from Fluminense, who spoke specifically to how playing here helps raise the profile of his club in the U.S. market and leads to better ratings for MLS in Brazil.
Gustavo Herbetta of Corinthians said Florida Cup provides the best preparation for the upcoming season. Afterward, Villar mentioned Corinthians found its successful formation against Bayer at last year's Florida Cup and also that the tournament would be using the same ball that is to be used in the Olympics in Brazil.
After the last of the Brazilian club representatives spoke, Michael Schade of Bayer 04 Leverkusen was next up. Schade compared the weather to cold German winters -- saying in an awesome German (almost Werner Herzog cadence) "raining cats and dogs". Schade contributes the return of Bayer to Florida Cup to excellent weather conditions and excellent pitch conditions, as well as the opportunity to play top clubs from Brazil and Colombia.
The opportunities to visit places like Disney and attend an NBA game in their off time were not lost on his club, nor was "[being able to] meet alligators on their way to the pitch every morning." After Schade was Alexander Jobst from Schalke 04, who was excited for his club to play in the U.S. for the first time. Luis Cuccatti of Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the lone American team in the tournament, said he was ready to show his NASL side could compete with some of the bigger clubs in the world. Rounding out the group was Diego Carreno of Santa Fe FC, who promised his club would play at a high level to compete with the other teams in Florida Cup.
A short Q&A session revealed that discussions with a Mexican club did take place, but their involvement could not be cemented due to the start of their season. Also, this year's tournament includes nine teams, but, in the future, Villar said he hopes to eventually switch to eight and reformat to a playoff, and that there are currently no plans to move the Florida Cup to the summer.
The tournament gets underway tomorrow at ESPN Wide World of Sports with Bayer Leverkusen taking on Santa Fe at 5 p.m., and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers squaring off against Schalke in the nightcap at 7:30 p.m.