Opening day of the NASL season. It should be the point in the season when players are full of vigor and making sprinting runs across the pitch. But in Fort Lauderdale’s opening game of the 2016 season in its home derby against Miami FC, the Strikers looked lethargic, uninspired and lacked any creativity.
It was only the first game of the season, but the 1-1 result felt like a loss. The Strikers were outplayed for the majority of the match by a well organized and more entertaining Miami FC side that played the entire second half with 10 men after Jorge Luis Corrales got red carded just before the halftime whistle.
For the first 45 minutes of the season opener, the Strikers failed to muster a single shot on target. In the second half, they weren’t much better. The only clear-cut chance the team had to score from open play came from a corner, which deflected against the side of a Miami FC defender and almost crept into the goal when the outstretched Maicon Santos hit the ball goalward.
After the Strikers rescued a point in the game with an injury-time penalty to finish the game 1-1 (in what appeared to be a dive to win the PK), Strikers Head Coach Caio Zanardi failed to paint a positive mood in the post-match press conference. When asked whether he thought his players’ lack of movement off the ball and fitness were a result of the Strikers’ busy preseason schedule that included friendlies against Schalke, Santa Fe and Shakhtar Donetsk in Florida as well as preseason tours to Brazil and China, Zanardi gave a two word answer:
Luis is Luis Cuccatti, managing director of the Strikers.
The curt response was discouraging especially considering it was the first post-match press conference of a new season, a time when managers are usually expected to have a rosier outlook. It was uncharacteristic to sense such tension after just the first 90 minutes of game one.
Inside the stadium and around the concourse, the vibe among the fans before the match and at half time was positive. On the warm spring evening, there were plenty of fans — both young and old — creating a great atmosphere.
Given how well the Strikers front office has been running this club, especially in the off-season with a string of friendlies against high-profile teams, as well as the hard work the club has done off the pitch (including a new ticket policy that allows kids 12 and under free entry to games, when accompanied by an adult), it’s frustrating to see the output on the field be so poor.
The one piece that’s missing from this Strikers club that will bring back the crowds is the most important one of them all — a team of passionate footballers, playing an attractive style of soccer that makes fans want to return to Lockhart Stadium each gameday.
Earlier in the press conference, Zanardi said, “We had five players injured, we also were tired from the trip to China. It will take some time to get our rhythm going.”
While injuries are unfortunate, the Strikers returned from their tour of China three weeks ago, which should have given his players plenty of time to recuperate and regain their fitness.
With the Strikers having a bye next week, the team has two weeks to get his team into a rhythm and to start playing more positively.
Based on Miami FC’s very impressive debut performance, the Strikers now have a formidable competitor on its doorstep, 45 miles to the south. Let’s see if that motivates the Fort Lauderdale team to improve its product on the pitch. Otherwise, Miami FC may end up stealing most of the headlines this Spring NASL season.
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