For the fifth straight year, the Florida Cup will bring high-quality soccer to the Sunshine State in the early stage of the new year. In 2019, the tournament will bring in top teams from Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands and Orlando City Stadium will host three of the tournament’s four matches on Jan. 10 and Jan. 12, with Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg hosting one match on Jan. 10.
This year’s edition will feature a Brazil vs. Europe format, in which the South American sides of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo and São Paulo FC play against the German Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt and Dutch Eredivisie’s Ajax Amsterdam. The champions will be determined by the sum of points earned by Brazilian and European teams.
The scoring system is as follows: Each team will receive three points for a win. Games that end in a tie after regulation will go directly to penalty kicks to determine a winner. A team will receive one point for a tie, and one extra point will be awarded to the winner of penalty kicks. The first tiebreaker in the standings will be wins, followed by goal differential, most goals scored, head-to-head result, and, finally, fair play as defined by FIFA regulations.
With Orlando City not starting its preseason until the end of the month, the Florida Cup is a great opportunity for Central Floridians to watch good soccer in our backyard. Let’s take a look at the teams in this year’s competition.
Ajax (the Netherlands)
Ajax will be the second Dutch team to compete in the Florida Cup after rivals PSV Eindhoven became the first to represent the country last year. The Amsterdam-based side is the most successful team in the nation, with 33 Eredivisie titles and 18 KNVB Cups. The club has also enjoyed great success at the continental level, topping the UEFA Champions League four times (1971, 1972, 1973, and 1995) and capturing the UEFA Cup once (1992).
The Dutch club is currently coached by Erik ten Hag and is currently second in the Eredivisie table after 17 games, just two points behind PSV. Ajax is tasked with a huge challenge in the Round of 16 of the 2018-2019 Champions League, as it will face defending champions Real Madrid of Spain.
Three players to watch:
Daley Blind (pictured): The son of the legendary Danny Blind is a versatile player who can deploy as a center back, left back, or defensive midfielder. After five seasons with Premier League giants Manchester United, Blind returned to his favorite club last summer at the age of 28.
Matthijs de Ligt: The 19-year-old center back captains the Dutch powerhouse and has drawn the attention of some of biggest teams in the world, such as FC Barcelona and Manchester City. He’s been part of the Dutch national team since 2017 and will remain there for many years to come.
Frenkie de Jong: The 21-year-old midfielder is one of the most talented players of the young Dutch generation mostly because of his dribbling ability and his vision. De Jong has been part of the Dutch national side in 2018 and plays a pivotal role in Ajax’s game.
Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
With Eintracht Frankfurt playing in the tournament for the first time, Germany will be once again be represented in the Florida Cup after missing the 2018 edition. Eintracht won the German Championship — the predecessor of the Bundesliga — back in 1959, and the UEFA Cup in 1980. It also finished second at the European Cup 20 years earlier.
Frankfurt is having a decent season in the 2018-2019 edition of the Bundesliga, as it currently sits in sixth place with eight victories in 17 matches. The team has been led by Austrian Head Coach Adi Hütter since last May.
Three players to watch:
Ante Rebic: The 25-year-old winger was part of the Croatian roster on the last two World Cups and played in most of the final match of last year’s edition against France. He’s been with the club since 2016 and has scored 13 goals in 58 matches.
Marco Fabián: The Mexican midfielder has been the subject of MLS speculation more than once, but he remains with Frankfurt where he signed in 2016. At 29, he’s a regular in the Mexican national team, which he represented in the last two World Cups and in the 2012 Olympics, when El Tri won gold.
Timmy Chandler (pictured): The German-born American international has spent most of his career with Frankfurt, emerging from the team’s academy in 2008. After four years with FC Nürnberg, he returned to the club in 2014. The 28-year-old right back has 29 caps for the United States Men’s National Team.
Flamengo is considered the most popular club in Brazil and will feature in the Florida Cup for the first time. The Rio de Janeiro-based team has won the Brazilian Série A five times (1980, 1982, 1983, 1992, and 2009), the Brazilian Cup three times (1990, 2006, and 2013), and the Copa Libertadores once (1981).
The team recently hired a new coach, veteran Abel Braga, following a second-place finish in last year’s Série A table after it was knocked out of Copa Libertadores in the Round of 16. Flamengo was also second in the Rio de Janeiro State Championship.
Three players to watch:
Gustavo Cuéllar: The Colombian defensive midfielder was among the most consistent names on the team in 2018 and was among the leaders in tackles in Brazil last year. At 26, he’s played some matches for his national team recently.
Éverton Ribeiro (pictured): Ribeiro joined Flamengo in 2017 after the club paid a massive transfer fee to bring him from United Arab Emirates’ Al-Ahli. One of the most skilled players in the roster, the 29-year-old can finish from long range and normally plays as an inverted right winger.
Vitinho: Flamengo signed Vitinho for a club-record fee of over $11 million from Russian side CSKA Moscow. The 25-year-old winger is a great dribbler but needs to improve his consistency.
Bonus Player to Watch:
Diego Ribas: Of course, if you’ve been reading The Mane Land, you’ve no doubt heard the rumblings of Orlando City’s interest in Flamengo’s No. 10. Per TML’s sources, Orlando City and Diego have mutual interest and a contract agreement in principle, although it is uncertain whether Flamengo will release Diego from his contract to join the MLS side. The Brazilian club is seeking a replacement for him — Diego is one of the club’s most expensive players at his current salary — from within South America. If that signing happens for Flamengo, Diego’s move to Orlando could happen quickly. We don’t expect the veteran midfielder to see a lot of minutes in the Florida Cup, but it could be a good opportunity for Orlando City fans to come out and get a look at their possible future No. 10.
São Paulo (Brazil)
The boyhood club of Orlando City’s first captain, Kaká, will return to the Florida Cup for the second time after winning the tournament in 2017. One of the winningest teams in South America, the club has six Brazilian Série A titles (1977, 1986, 1991, 2006, 2007, and 2008) and three Copa Libertadores (1992, 1993, and 2005) titles to its name.
São Paulo finished fifth in the Brazilian Série A in 2018 thanks to the work of Head Coach André Jardine, who took the job when the club was in bad form. The team didn’t make it past the second round of the South American Cup.
Three players to watch:
Diego Souza (pictured): The 33-year-old veteran is a versatile offensive player who can fill pretty much any position, from midfield up the pitch to striker. One of the most athletic players in Brazil, Diego scored 12 goals to rank third in last year’s Brazilian Série A.
Hernanes: A product of São Paulo’s academy, Hernanes is about to start his third stint with the club as he was recently signed from Chinese club Hebei Fortune. A dynamic player, the 33-year-old midfielder has played for Italian top sides Lazio, Inter Milan, and Juventus between 2010 and 2017.
Pablo: The 26-year-old striker was one of the sensations in Brazil last season when he scored 18 goals (12 in the Brazilian Série A) and led Atletico Paranaense (Orlando City’s Brazilian partner club) to the title of the South American Cup. A journeyman, the forward spent time with Real Madrid’s B team back in 2014.
Thursday, Jan. 10
Ajax vs. Flamengo, 7 p.m. at Orlando City Stadium
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. São Paulo, 7 p.m. at Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg)
Saturday, Jan. 12
São Paulo vs. Ajax, 1 p.m. at Orlando City Stadium
Flamengo vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, 4 p.m. Orlando City Stadium