By: Greg Oldfield special for the Florida Cup
Flamengo will make its first appearance at the Florida Cup this year, but the Rubro-Negra have played twelve games in the U.S., their last one in 2006 against Club America in Los Angeles. Prior to that, in 1990, Flamengo took part in the Marlboro Cup at Giants Stadium where they faced Alianza Lima and the U.S. National Team. In 1987, they played four games in California, two each against Monterrey and the Mexico National Team. Perhaps their biggest game was against the NY Cosmos in 1982, a year after Flamengo won the Copa Libertadores and the Intertoto Cup. The game, which ended in a 3-3 draw, featured Zico, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Sócrates, and Carlos Alberto Torres.
Flamengo arrive at the Florida Cup following a long season that brought one title and many strong performances in all competitions. The team opened their 2018 season in the Campeonato Carioca, topping their group in the Taça Guanabara. They defeated Botafogo in a passionate semifinal before claiming their 21st title with a victory over Boavista in the final. Flamengo tried to balance the Taça Rio with their Copa Libertadores schedule and finished second in their group. They tied Fluminense 1-1 in the semifinal but were eliminated based on a lower table placement. Flamengo advanced to the Final Stage due to their performances in the Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio but lost in the semifinals 1-0 to Botafogo.
In the Copa Libertadores, Flamengo were paired in Group D with eventual champion River Plate and advanced as the second-place finisher with two wins and four draws. The team were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Cruzeiro 2-1 on aggregate. In the Copa do Brasil, Flamengo reached the semifinals against Corinthians, dropping the second leg 2-1 after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
Flamengo won eight games to start the Serié A season, drew three, and lost only once to claim top spot in the league at the World Cup break. The club added strikers Fernando Uribe in late June and Vitinho from CSKA Moscow in July for €12 million, their most expensive signing, which highlighted their need to replace their departed stars. Flamengo opened the post-World Cup break with a 1-0 loss to São Paulo and dropped too many points late in the season. Their biggest slip came in late October when in consecutive weeks their 1-1 draw with Palmeiras was followed by a 2-2 draw against São Paulo and a 2-1 loss to Botafogo. Palmeiras held on to become Champions of the Serié A, and the Rubro-Negra finished in second place.
Abel Braga was hired as the new coach for the 2019 season and will make his debut at the Florida Cup. Braga has extensive experience throughout Brazil, France, and the Middle East. Éverton Ribeiro and Vitinho bring flair and excitement from opposing wide positions in the attack. Henrique Dourado and Fernando Uribe provide the size, strength, and goal scoring acumen comparable to the best central strikers in Serié A. Gustavo Cuéllar and William Arão were mainstays in the midfield last season and should continue their roles again in 2019.
Renê, named to the Serié A Team of the Year in 2018, brings dynamism and unpredictability, attacking from the defensive left wing. Léo Duarte, 21 years old, played in nearly every game in 2018 and will anchor the central defense. The goalkeeper position is likely up in the air. Diego Alves played a majority of the season but was replaced by César over the final few months last season.
Flamengo will play Ajax on January 10th and Eintracht Frankfurt on January 12th at Orlando City Stadium.