By: Greg Oldfield, Special to the Florida Cup
Florida Cup 2019 officially began this morning when Florida Cup executives shared the stage with delegates from the four competing teams at Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort. In a crowded ballroom, surrounded by nearly two hundred representatives of the media, Florida Cup CEO Ricardo Villar and Florida Cup Director Ricardo Silveira were joined by Ajax’s CEO Edwin van der Sar, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Director for Sport Fredi Bobic, São Paulo’s Chief Executive Raí, and Flamengo’s Marketing Director Joao Pedro Mattar. All of the participants spoke about their anticipation for the week’s match-ups.
Several dignitaries were also on-hand including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orlando District 6 Commissioner Samuel B. Ings, and Brazilian Consul General from Miami Joao Mendes Pereira.
Mayor Dyer highlighted Orlando’s role in growing the beautiful game, with established teams like Orlando City and Pride, as well as major events like Copa America. The City Beautiful also has its eyes on hosting the World Cup in 2026.
Universal Orlando Resort President Bill Davis welcomed the executives and the media. This is Universal’s second year in partnership with the Florida Cup, and Davis called the event “the culmination of an enormous collective effort by our partners at the Florida Cup, the team at Universal Orlando Resort, and many others who will bring this amazing international celebration of soccer to Central Florida for the next five days.”
In addition to the International matches, the Florida Cup will host a Fan Fest inside the park with selected events, including a concert with Ivete Sangalo on Friday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. The Universal Orlando team has also constructed a mini exhibition soccer arena that will host the Legends 5 v 5 tournament as well as a YouTubers challenge with media influencers and youth. In addition, the Florida Cup will host a 5k run on Sunday morning, Jan. 13, which will take place inside the park.
Villar presented three priorities for the Florida Cup experience: the entertainment value of football, international match-ups at the highest level, and fan opportunities. But Villar stressed that the Florida Cup is not a vacation for the clubs involved. “Our duty is to do the best that we can to prepare them for the season.”
van der Sar thanked the organizations for providing high-quality facilities and pitches for his team to train. “For Ajax Amsterdam,” he said, “this is a fantastic opportunity to come to Florida, to enjoy weather, facilities, training, and for the good opposition to play against.” Ajax is preparing for the second half of the Eredivisie in a few weeks with a looming matchup against Real Madrid in February.
Bobic echoed van der Sar’s comments, adding that it will be “a pleasure to play against teams like São Paulo and Flamengo. Eintracht Frankfurt, represented by seven nationalities, will be preparing for the second half of the Bundesliga, where they had risen up to third in the table before dropping to fifth at the break. Bobic said that playing the Brazilian clubs will provide his team with a good preparation for Shakhtar Donetsk, their Europa League knockout round opponent who currently has 11 Brazilians on their roster.
Raí and Mattar both thanked the Florida Cup team members for their support and organization and expressed their eagerness to be a part of this year’s event. São Paulo were Florida Cup Champions back in 2017, and Flamengo are making their first appearance. Both clubs are back in training after the off-season and adjusting to new players and longer preparation with their new coaches.
Ajax will play Flamengo at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday, Jan. 10. Eintracht Frankfurt will play São Paulo the same night at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. All clubs will be back in action again on Saturday, Jan. 12 at Orlando City Stadium.