It’s Round of 16 time for this year’s edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and Orlando City has the pleasure of welcoming Fort Lauderdale to Camping World Stadium for the first competitive match between the two clubs. It’s not very often that the Lions get the chance to take on multiple Floridian teams in a season, but the Strikers are a more difficult match-up on paper than the Jacksonville Armada.
Fort Lauderdale finished sixth in the NASL standings for the Spring Season, just three points behind title winners Indy Eleven. They’ve downed USL heavyweight Richmond and D.C. United on their road to Orlando and it’ll be a hard-fought contest with the talent on both sides.
You might recognize the familiar faces of Jean Alexandre and Giuseppe Gentile, two former Lions that have played roles in the Strikers’ Cup run so far. The Lions may have come out on top in February in their preseason bout, but what does Orlando City have to do to ensure its third appearance in the quarterfinals?
1) Attack with Width
While the Strikers have had a respectable year to this point, the major concern has been their defense. They have managed only two clean sheets in 14 matches, relying on their offense to provide results. On the other side, while Julio Baptista has been a spectacular super sub for Orlando, when he starts he just hasn’t been as productive. In his two MLS starts this season, he’s only managed one shot on goal. Against the Armada, he never really looked his terrifying self. Baptista is the likely man to lead the Lions’ line tonight, so it will be interesting to see if he can carry his form over.
The man tasked with marking him will be Gale Agbossoumonde, a young Togolese defender with MLS experience. Agbossoumonde was the hero of the Strikers’ last Cup match, clearing multiple balls off the line to preserve a scoreless draw. He’s played every minute for the Strikers in 2016 and is their rock at the back. He’ll be difficult for any of the Lions’ forwards to out-muscle and he excels at interceptions. Orlando may need to go after his center back partner to have success.
The best chance for providing service for Baptista will come from the right. Whether it’s Kevin Molino or Hadji Barry, they’ll be squaring off with Victor Pagliari Giro, commonly known as "PC," the Strikers’ Brazilian left back. PC, like Agbossoumonde, has started every match and consistently been one of Fort Lauderdale’s best offensive players but he often allows crosses. The Lions’ right side will have their hands full on the defensive end, but the key to unlocking Fort Lauderdale will come at the expense of their fullbacks. Their combination of right backs have fewer interceptions and duel victories between them, yet they have far fewer assists from their end. Ideally, Carlos Rivas or any other left winger could take advantage.
2) Contain Maicon Santos and José Angulo
Former MLS front man Maicon Santos has been plying his trade in Fort Lauderdale this season after stints with five MLS clubs and some time with Pueblo in Liga MX, scoring goals everywhere he went. He led the Strikers in goals during the spring season with four in nine appearances and, even at 32 years old, he has the pace to get behind the defensive line. Orlando City has struggled with athletic strikers in the past and Santos is an experienced finisher. The good news is that he’s very one-footed, so if the defenders can get him away from his favored left foot he’ll be easier to handle.
Fans of the Lions since their USL days might be familiar with Santos’ strike partner, José Angulo. He was the Pittsburgh Riverhounds forward that went toe-to-toe with Dom Dwyer during the 2013 season, equaling Dwyer’s 15 regular season goals and chipping in four assists to beat Dom to the USL scoring title and league MVP.
Angulo has played in the midfield behind Santos this season — which has dropped his goal output slightly — but he’s still second on the team in goals scored in 2016. His ball control can cause problems for defenders and he can score from outside the box, so Orlando City will need to limit the space in front of him. He excels at shooting off the volley and with his head, so Seb Hines and company will need to win all aerial duels in the box with him lurking. Angulo only managed to score once against Orlando in three USL seasons, but he’ll be itching to double that total tonight. Whether Angulo is deployed on the left wing or centrally, the defense will have to watch this tandem closely. Most of the Strikers’ goals have been assisted from the right, so it will be on the left side of the defense to prevent service into the box.
3) Win Before PKs
Both of Fort Lauderdale’s Cup wins so far have ended in penalty kicks. The main reason that the Strikers managed to get to this stage is their goalkeeper, Diego Restrepo, who made four saves over the course of both shootouts. Restrepo — who has several caps with the United States U-17 and U-20 teams — has bounced back and forth between the U.S. and Venezuela during his career, but he’s landed back in South Florida, where he grew up. The Strikers have only lost once this year with Restrepo between the pipes and he’ll be a tough test for the Orlando City forwards as he’s averaged 2.5 saves per match. If the game goes down to a shootout, the advantage lies with Fort Lauderdale.
Orlando will need a solid performance on both ends of the pitch if they want to advance to the next round. The questions are which offense can out-duel the other, and can the Orlando City defense stand up to what should be a tough task.