What Are They All About? Fort Lauderdale Strikers
The Brimstone Cup has a new home. FC Dallas defeated the Chicago Fire 3-1 this past Saturday to solidify their position at the top of the league. Chicago find themselves back in last place, a spot they have occupied for most of the 2016 season. In what is becoming an all too familiar story line the Fire are seemingly out of the running for a playoff appearance before the leaves have changed color.
Promises of improvement and a call for patience from Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez are starting to hold less weight as frustrations grow in the community. However, all of that will be put aside for a brief moment on Wednesday evening as the focus shifts from league play to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Chicago welcomes the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to Toyota Park and despite their league troubles, are three wins away from a trophy and a CONCACAF Champions League berth.
The Fire have looked good thus far in the competition and received a favorable draw once again. FTL is the last NASL side left in the competition and has had their own struggles recently. Will Chicago take a step closer to an historic fifth Open Cup trophy or will they continue another recent trend of exiting the competition in embarrassing fashion?
FTL Strikers (Last Five Competitive Matches): L-L-L-D-W
Previous Match: A 1-0 home loss to FC Edmonton.
Formation in Previous Match: 4-3-3; Restrepo; Attakora, Agbossoumonde, James, Corrales; Arguez, Alexandre, Fernandes; Junior, Nunez, Angulo
Strengths: While Fort Lauderdale currently find themselves in second to last place of the NASL Fall season they did finish in sixth during the Spring and sit in eighth place of the combined table. If you think that was a “strengths” stretch that’s because it was. There really isn’t that much to this Strikers team and in a sense that highlights the beauty of this competition. Let’s take a look at some of the strong points coming from Fort Lauderdale’s last three matches.
Shots: The Strikers have attempted to live up to their namesake recently by registering an average of twelve shots a match. Their recent losses haven’t come from a lack of trying as those shooting statistics are strengthened by the fact that they have outshot opponents in most of their matches this season. Of their last three matches they bested Edmonton and Carolina in the attempts category (Indy demolished them across the statistical board) and had higher shooting accuracy than their opponents as well.
A majority of their shots come from distance and they aren’t afraid to try from acute angles (i.e. Luis Felipe Fernandes’ 35-yard strike with his wrong foot against Carolina). Given some of Matt Lampson’s shortcomings this season, the likes of Fernandes, Jose Angulo and Paulo Jr. will look to try to test the keeper early.
From closer range FTL has largely relied on Maicon Santos and his team leading four goals on the season. However, he is suspended for this match and Lauderdale will likely look to midfielder/forward Ramon Nunez to contribute in the advanced striker role. He isn’t exactly a target forward but he finds space well and has the added utility of being able to be used on the wing or as a CAM. He spent time in those positions playing for Cruz Azul, Leeds, Real Espana and FC Dallas. A chance at glory with the Strikers is on the cards for a somewhat storied player.
Distribution: Fort Lauderdale has averaged just under an 80% passing accuracy during the Fall iteration of the schedule and have kept the possession statistics close to 50/50. Luis Felipe Fernandes and Jean-Marc Alexandre have served as their creative focal points and have linked up with the attacking three successfully recently. Fernandes completed 34/38, 34/41, 44/49 passes against Carolina, Edmonton and Indy respectively. Alexandre had 19/19, 35/39, 31/35 in that time. The longer that FTL can keep possession and string together successful passes the more the pressure will mount on Chicago.
Smile for the Camera Boys: There have been recent reports of money issues at the club and in a strange way that could be a blessing for the Strikers in this competition. First covered by Jeff Reuter and Fifty Five One, it has come to light that Fort Lauderdale has been late in paying their players on several occasions this season. It has led to frustrations among the players and possibly had something to do with the departures of Adrianinho and Matheus Carvalho. The club comment referred to an issue with transferring money from Brasilian bank accounts (the club is owned by the original Ronaldo) but either way there is a lot of uncertainty floating around the club house.
How is that a blessing you ask? Well, there have also been rumors that ESPN has elected to televise the Open Cup Semi Finals. If this is indeed true and the Strikers make the semis they will have an opportunity to showcase their skills on an easily accessible platform. With expansion sides coming into MLS next season, NASL growing in spending power and overseas interest in North American soccer being at an all-time high the players could be playing for moves away from a troubled situation. Playing for contracts and financial stability can add a dangerous dimension to a match. Look for a feisty affair.
Home Town Hero: When Fort Lauderdale visits on Wednesday there will be a bittersweet feeling around Toyota Park as Chicago’s first ever Home Grown Player, Victor Pineda, will take the field against them. The Bolingbrook native came up through the Fire academy and frequently featured for the USMNT at the youth level before putting pen to paper for his first professional contract on August 17, 2010. He appeared in just four matches over the course of four years but holds a special place in the hearts of the Fire faithful.
Pineda showed great potential in academy matches and in his brief first team appearances. He’s agile, smart on the ball, takes defenders on and has a dangerous shot. The local boy will certainly have a chip on his shoulder when he appears on Wednesday after a less than ideal end to his stay in Chicago. Look for an emotionally charged performance from the youngster.
Weaknesses: We have to be honest, this Fort Lauderdale side is pretty bad… On top of their terrible league form they have also struggled in the Open Cup. Yes, they have gotten through to the Quarters but they’ve done it by the skin of their teeth. A penalty shootout against the Richmond Kickers ended 2-1 in FTL’s favor and was followed up by another shootout against D.C. United where they squeezed by again. Their most recent match in the competition also went to extra time before a 120th minute strike by PC avoided a third consecutive shootout and edged them past Orlando. A win is a win but how long can their luck last? Let’s take a look at their struggles.
Onde você foi?: When the Strikers take the pitch on Wednesday they will be doing so without several key pieces. The aforementioned Brasilian exodus of Adrianinho and Matheus Carvalho might prove problematic as both have been key in their Open Cup run. Maicon Santos’ needless red card against Orlando will also hurt their goal scoring threat. Jose Angulo is the only player available that has scored more than one goal this season (he has two) and the team has averaged a 44% shots to shots on target ration over the course of their last three matches. They’ll be wishing they had sorted out their finances earlier.
Good Luck Restrepo: FTL’s goalkeeper, Diego Restrepo, has been the lone bright spot of this Striker’s backline and he will certainly be busy on Wednesday. We’ve previewed some bad defenses this season but For Lauderdale takes the cake. Their match against Indy Eleven is perhaps the best example of their many shortcomings.
The performance was reminiscent of someone taking a snack break from FIFA but forgetting to pause the match. Seventeen total shots from Indy resulted in three goals, two posts, a cross bar and a shot that may or may not have crossed the line but was ruled a no goal. Comical defending was plagued by missed clearance, unsure man marking, putting balls back into dangerous areas and an overall apathy for any sort of defensive display. Michael de Leeuw should have a field day against this FTL side if he continues to exploit space in the way that he has with his first two performances.
The performances against Edmonton and Carolina were no better. After dominating possession and the shot count, FTL was outdone by a single long ball to Daryl Fordyce who was “marked” by both center backs and managed to take the ball down coolly before putting it in the back of the net. Several instances of pinball in the box against the Railhawks finally led to a Shriver goal assisted by none other than Matt Fondy. The extent of the defensive effort on that play was the entire backline raising their hands in longshot hopes of an offside call.
Statistically speaking the Strikers have conceded 16, 19, and 15 fouls against Carolina, Indy and Edmonton respectively. Two of their last three matches have also seen FTL finish the match with 10 men. Discipline is not their forte and Paunovic should definitely have Chicago practicing set pieces going into this one. Nana Attakora, Julius James and Gale Agbossoumonde are big, slow and clumsy at the back. David Accam was tailor made for this matchup.
Prediction: On paper this is an easy win for the Fire. Soccer is not played on paper but Paunovic and Rodriguez need to deliver with this one. After all, Chicago did hire a manager whose experience is based off of winning a tournament. An exit to NASL opposition in a home Quarter final would be disastrous for the “Process”. We will once again forgo an Open Cup score prediction and leave this as a must win match. We look forward to the possibility of bringing you an Open Cup Semifinal preview.