International soccer is returning to Central Florida for the sixth straight winter as the 2020 edition of the Florida Cup will take place Jan. 15-18 in Orlando at Exploria Stadium. And this time the tournament arrives with negatives and positives for Orlando soccer fans when compared to previous editions.
Let’s start with the bad news. For the first time since the tournament started back in 2015, there will be no European teams competing. The frustration of not being able to see clubs in person from the sport’s strongest region in the world can be a little bit mitigated by the fact that — also for the first time — all four matches of the tournament will be played in the same stadium.
This year’s field is formed by four teams: Brazilian giants Corinthians and Palmeiras, Colombia’s Atletico Nacional, and New York City FC — the first Major League Soccer team to ever appear in the tournament. NYCFC is filling in for Spartak Moscow. The Russian side had to pull out of the tournament due to visa issues.
The first match day takes place tomorrow, with Corinthians playing New York City FC at 6 p.m. and Palmeiras clashing with Atletico Nacional at 8:30 p.m. The Brazilian teams will switch opponents for the second and final day of the event this Saturday, Jan. 18. NYCFC will play Palmeiras at 2 p.m. Saturday and Atletico Nacional will play Corinthians at 5:30 p.m.
Victories will grant teams the usual three points, while ties will give both teams a point, but matches drawn will be followed by penalty kicks, which will secure an additional point to the winner.
In case of a tie in the standings, the first tiebreaker will be wins then goal differential, followed by most goals scored, head-to-head result, and fair play, as defined by FIFA regulations.
Now that you know what’s going on, here’s all the information you need about the teams:
Atletico Nacional (Colombia)
The Colombians return for their second appearance in the tournament after winning it in their debut back in 2018, when they prevailed in both of their two matches. Atletico is one of the most accomplished teams in the country, having won the Colombian Championship on 16 occasions and the South American Copa Libertadores twice.
The team is led by former Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls, and Mexican National Team head coach Juan Carlos Osorio and finished fifth in the last edition of its National Championship. Atletico recently lost two of its most veteran players in center back Alexis Henríquez and Argentinean striker Hernán Barcos. The team also lost young midfielder Andres Perea, now an Orlando City player, but has been active in the market to keep a strong roster.
Three players to watch:
Alberto ‘Tino’ Costa
The Argentinean midfielder spent the majority of his career in Europe, where he played for teams from four different countries, including Spain’s Valencia, Italy’s Fiorentina, France’s Montpellier and Russia’s Spartak Moscow. He also got a couple of call-ups for the Argentinean National Team in 2011 and 2012. At 34, Costa is no longer the dynamic player he used to be, but his left foot can still be deadly, especially on set pieces and long passes.
Daniel Bocanegra (pictured)
The Colombian defender is the only remaining starter from the Atletico Nacional team that won the Copa Libertadores in 2016. A solid right back for that team, he’s been more used as a center back recently, a position in which he can put his long passing game to best use. Bocanegra, 32, built his entire career in Colombia and has been with the club since 2013. He received his first call-up to the country’s national team in 2014 and was part of it again during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
A young and dynamic winger, the 24-year-old Barrera possesses an undeniable soccer pedigree, as he’s the nephew of the legendary midfielder Carlos Valderrama, a star for the Tampa Bay Mutiny in MLS’ first days. He had a promising start to his career, being an important player for Colombia’s Junior Barranquilla and receiving call-ups to the country’s U-20 and U-23 national teams. His game caught the attention of Tigres in 2019, but he never saw the field for the Mexican powerhouse, though, being loaned out to Argentina’s Rosario Central just eight days after his signing. After very limited playing time in Argentina, he returned to Colombia to try to revamp his career.
Corinthians is a veteran at the Florida Cup as the Brazilian side played in four of the first five editions of the tournament, being absent only in 2019. The team’s best result was the second-place finish in 2017. Nicknamed Timão (Big Team), Corinthians is one of the most popular soccer clubs in Brazil, having won the National Championship seven times, the Copa Libertadores once, and the FIFA Club World Cup twice.
The team finished eighth at the 2019 Brazilian Championship with new Orlando City midfielder Junior Urso on the roster and recently changed head coaches, hiring up-and-comer Tiago Nunes, who led Orlando City’s partner club, Athletico Paranaense, to the Brazilian Cup title last season.
Three players to watch:
The 30-year-old right back started his career with Corinthians in 2006 and returned to the club in 2014 after stints with four different teams, including Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and the Bundesliga’s Wolfsburg. He started for the Brazilian National Team in four matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and was also on the roster during last year’s Copa America. Fagner is known for his hard work in the defensive end, but can also be effective in the offensive side of the game.
Voted as the best player in all of South America in 2017, when he led Grêmio to win the Copa Libertadores, Luan is Corinthians’ major signing this off-season as he was acquired by a transfer fee that exceeded $ 5 million. The 26-year-old player can be a lethal threat on offense as he’s a great dribbler and an effective finisher. A gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the forward has publicly declared he’s a Corinthians fan and will now play for this team.
Love is one of the most experienced players on Corinthians’ roster and the 35-year-old striker has played for two of the other biggest teams in Brazil (Palmeiras, where he started his career, and Flamengo) and also spent time in Europe, where he featured for Russia’s CSKA Moscow, France’s Monaco, and Turkey’s Alanyaspor and Besikitas. He’s also played in China, where he defended Shandong Luneng. Despite his 5-foot-7 frame, Love, who got the nickname for taking girlfriends to his team’s training center during his youth career, is a lethal finisher inside the penalty box.
New York City FC (USA)
New York City FC will become the first Major League Soccer team to take part in the Florida Cup. The other American teams to appear in the tournament were the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 2016, and the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017.
The team, which topped the Eastern Conference in the 2019 MLS regular season before falling to Toronto FC in the conference semifinal, has recently announced Norwegian Ronny Deila as its head coach for the 2020 season.
Three players to watch:
The diminutive Argentinean has been a key contributor to the Citizens’ offense since his arrival in MLS in 2016. Since then, he has scored 21 goals and registered 48 assists in 96 matches (94 starts). The 32-year-old Moralez is a very dynamic midfielder, who can create goal-scoring opportunities by either dribbling the ball or assisting a teammate. He can also be dangerous on set pieces.
Sean Johnson (pictured)
Considered one of the best American goalkeepers in MLS, Johnson has been called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team a few times in his career. After promising but inconsistent seasons with the Chicago Fire, the goalkeeper joined NYCFC in 2017 and has become one of the best shot stoppers in the league. The 30-year-old Johnson went to college in Orlando as he attended the University of Central Florida.
The 28-year-old Finnish international quickly became a stud for NYCFC as he was named Newcomer of the Year in his first season with the team in 2017. A hard-nosed defensive midfielder, Ring is effective in both winning the ball and moving it around the center of the field. He’s also one of the team’s most active locker room voices, which made of him the team’s second-ever captain following the departure of Spanish star David Villa ahead of the 2019 season.
Palmeiras is set to become the ninth Brazilian club to compete at the Florida Cup as the São Paulo state team will make its debut in 2020. The team is the record holder for national titles in Brazil, having won the National Championship 10 times. The club also won the Copa Libertadores once and the Brazilian Cup on three occasions.
After finishing third in the 2019 Brazilian League, the team, which had won the 2018 edition, brought back legendary head coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who is set to start his fifth stint with the club. He won a pair of Brazilian League titles for Palmeiras in the 90s and coached both the Brazilian National Team and Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Three players to watch:
The 27-year-old winger has been instrumental to Palmeiras’ recent success in Brazil. The 5-foot-5 Dudu is hard to stop when in transition and he’s also got a nice finishing touch inside the penalty box. When he decided to return to Brazil in 2015 after a four-year stint with Ukraine’s Dynamo Kiev, most of the country’s top teams tried to secure his services, but Palmeiras ultimately did it.
The veteran defensive midfielder enjoyed a long and successful career in Europe, in which he played for Italian giants Internazionale and Juventus and Turkish side Galatasaray, before joining Palmeiras in 2017. Melo featured in the Brazilian National Team between 2009 and 2010 and is a tough defensive midfielder who can play with the ball at his feet as well. At 36, he often struggles to control his nerves, though, and could unsurprisingly be sent off in a friendly match.
The 17-year-old prodigy made his first appearances with Palmeiras at the end of the 2019 Brazilian League and he scored twice in just three matches. Veron became a big name in the country when he led Brazil’s U-17 team to win the FIFA World Cup on home soil last November by securing the tournament’s Golden Ball. He’s one of the nation’s most exciting young players and should get plenty of playing time at the Florida Cup.
There you have it. The tournament will consist of doubleheaders on Wednesday and Saturday, so head down to Exploria Stadium and get an off-season soccer fix to hold you over until the Lions return at the end of February.