Atlético Nacional came into the final Florida Cup match in third place. The Colombian side sat three points behind Barcelona SC, so it needed a win and to make up the goal differential to win the tournament. Nacional made up the two-goal differential it needed thanks to a first-half brace from Aldo Leao Ramírez and never looked back, beating Legia Warsaw, 2-0, at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.
The game started out back and forth with both teams having opportunities on goal. Just after the 30th minute, Nacional fans were calling for a penalty kick but it was waived off by the referee. Just a few minutes later though, Ramírez put Atlético up 1-0. Macnelly Torres put a perfect through ball that found Ramírez one-on-one with the ‘keeper, and Ramírez easily found the back of the net.
Six minutes later, Ramírez doubled the lead and put the Colombian side into first place. Ramírez took a pass with his left foot and cut towards the outside. He then fired a powerful shot that might have been going wide, but a defender deflected it and Atlético Nacional took a 2-0 lead in the 36th minute.
— Florida Cup (@Florida_Cup) January 21, 2018
Nacional took its two-goal lead into the second half and saw out its championship. Legia had a few chances but the Polish side could not do enough to truly challenge Atlético’s defense and could not find the back of the net.
The Colombian side was one of three teams to go 2-0 in the tournament, but beat out both Barcelona SC and Scottish giants Rangers on goal differential. Barcelona fell to second and Rangers ended up third.
Legia finished the tournament in seventh place out of eight teams. The Polish side failed to win either of its games.
Fulham vs. Aston Villa, International Friendly: Final Score 2-0 as Aston Villa Wins Friendly at Exploria Stadium
Aston Villa scored a goal in each half to defeat a wasteful Fulham side in friendly action at Exploria Stadium.
Aston Villa scored a goal in each half to dispatch Fulham 2-0 in a friendly match, as the Summer Series came to Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. Jaden Philogene put Aston Villa ahead in the first half and Moussa Diaby doubled the lead in the second half to lead the Villans past a Fulham side that wasted several good opportunities to get on the scoreboard.
“A strange match tonight,” Aston Villa Manager Unai Emery said. “We started late, and we didn’t get the rhythm like we wanted. We didn’t build up like we were doing on Sunday against Newcastle. We didn’t connect or progress with good passes trying to get in the boxes, but we competed, we won, and we played the game with different players, trying to get our fitness. I am happy but overall it was strange, tonight’s match.”
Marco Silva’s starting lineup for Fulham looked like this:
Emery countered with this lineup for Aston Villa:
A delay for inclement weather pushed kickoff back an hour and 20 minutes. Once the match began, the two English sides played a physical and sometimes downright feisty game for a friendly.
The opening 25 minutes was mostly bereft of clear-cut chances. The best opportunity for either side up to that point was a header just wide off a corner kick by Aston Villa’s Kansa in the eighth minute.
As the first half wore on, Aston Villa started creating more opportunities. Cameron Archer was sent into the box with a good through ball and he was taken down. It was an obvious penalty. Archer took the spot kick himself, but Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno got a hand to it, diving to his right and deflecting it off the woodwork.
Villa worked the ball back into the box to Archer again but this time he sent his shot wide to the left.
Kansa was booked for Aston Villa in the 36th minute for a rough foul as the physical play continued. Shortly after that, however, his side took the lead.
A ball in from the left side from Lucas Digne found Philogene in front and he swept it home to make it 1-0 in the 40th minute.
Just before the break, Fulham put the ball in the net through Carlos Vinicius, but the flag had gone up for offside in the buildup. Villa carried its 1-0 lead into halftime.
Fulham opened the second half looking to get level and creating chances. Substitute Willian won an early free kick but Fulham could do nothing with it. Vinicius was left unmarked moments later but headed over the bar. Sasa Lukic tried an ambitious shot from distance in the 54th minute, but it was always going wide to the right. A minute later, Vinicius had another header attempt but hit this one just outside the upper left corner of the goal frame.
Aston Villa then calmed things down with a good spell of possession, although the Lions couldn’t create any chances from it. Both managers substituted liberally at the hour mark to bring on fresh legs.
Fulham’s best look came in the 71st minute. Willian sent a good diagonal ball that went through traffic and found Harry Wilson in the box. However, the Welsh winger scuffed his shot badly wide to the left.
Two minutes later, Villa scored an insurance goal. A well-weighted ball over the top found a streaking Diaby, who got in behind the Fulham defense and beat goalkeeper Mark Rodak to make it 2-0.
Luke Harris got some late chances for Fulham but he sent his first one straight at substitute goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and the second one Martinez saved, knocking it just wide for a corner in the 80th and 81st minutes.
Jay Stansfield went for goal from outside the area but sent his shot wide on one of Fulham’s last decent looks in the 87th minute.
Villa nearly made it 3-0 in the 89th minute when Ollie Watkins was sent in behind but his touch was just a tad heavy and that allowed Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak to come off his line and intercede.
That was the last good chance and Aston Villa closed out a victory in what was a fairly even match in which Fulham simply couldn’t find the net.
“It was really good,” Silva said of the Exploria Stadium atmosphere. “One of the very good things on this tour and this Summer Series is that we are playing preseason matches, but at the same time, we are playing these types of matches with a good environment, with a good atmosphere in the stadiums. It’s much easier for the players to be motivated when they play with this type of environment in the stadium. One of the good things this Summer Series gives us as a coach, is we don’t need to push them because the environment will give them the boost in terms of the motivation that they need.”
Fulham — Bernd Leno, Kenny Tete, Harrison Reed, Harry Wilson, Tom Cairney (C), Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Kevin Mbabu, Sasa Lukic, Carlos Vinicius, Issa Diop, Luc De Fougerolles.
Aston Villa — Robin Olsen, Konsa, John McGinn (C), Youri Tielemans, Emiliano Buendia, Lucas Digne, Torres, Jaden Philogene, Cameron Archer, Boubacar Kamara.
Aston Villa — Jaden Philogene (40′)
Aston Villa — Moussa Diaby (73′)
The Beautiful Game Provided an Evening of Fun Soccer Until Pitch Invaders and Rain Halted the Proceedings
A fun night celebrating the game we all love was cut short by an overwhelming number of pitch invaders and a torrential downpour in the second half.
“The Beautiful Game” came to Orlando tonight as soccer legends and an assortment of other celebrities participated in an exhibition match at Exploria Stadium. The teams were captained by legendary Brazilians Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos and included notable current and former players such as former Orlando City captain Nani, Real Madrid star Vini Jr., and AS Roma winger Paulo Dybala.
It was a fun and entertaining soccer exhibition until persistent pitch invaders and a massive downpour dampened the proceedings. The match was abandoned just past the hour mark.
That the result wasn’t important to anyone was obvious from the start, but flair, entertaining the crowd, and showing off technique were. This was rarely more apparent than whenever Nani had the ball, showing off his fantastic footwork and going out of his way not to shoot, with the exception of a free kick from about 25 yards out that he sent just wide of the left post in the first half.
“It was amazing,” the former Orlando City captain said about his return to Exploria Stadium. “It’s always good to go back home. I was feeling great. A little bit emotional to be here at this club, because it’s a club where I had so many beautiful moments. I heard my name in the stands, so that was a really exciting moment for me. I enjoyed a lot. It’s always special to be back home.”
The match opened with some good chances for Team Ronaldinho (Team R10) with Cafu hitting the crossbar before Ronaldinho sent a shot just wide in the third minute. Vini Jr. attempted a bicycle kick in the sixth minute but René Higuita was there to make the save. Jay-Jay Okocha opened the scoring in the 10th minute with some slick moves to beat both the “defense” and Higuita, putting Team R10 up, 1-0.
Five minutes later, Rivaldo tied things up for Team Roberto Carlos (Team RC3) with a shot from distance, beating Team R10 goalkeeper Dida.
Patrick Kluivert made it 2-1 for Team R10 in the 25th minute, scoring after taking a nice pass from Vini Jr. and beating Higuita.
Nani’s free kick went just wide in the 28th minute and seconds later Team R10 extended its lead when Cafu drew Higuita off his line and chipped him to make it 3-1.
Four minutes later, it was Nani sending a beautiful through ball to Willian, who crossed in front for former Tottenham man Lucas Moura to finish into an open net. Team RC3 pulled within 3-2.
The final goal of the half came from Vini Jr. in the 36th minute as he chipped Mateus, who had replaced Higuita in goal.
Each team hit the woodwork and that was about it for the first half, but both sides showed flashes of brilliance in their passing and dribbling. Team R10 took a 4-2 lead into the break over Team RC3.
Vini Jr. scored in the 48th minute but this time he was wearing a different uniform. The Real Madrid star came out as a Team RC3 player and brought his team within a goal at 4-3 just after the restart.
The game went back and forth for the next 10 minutes or so, and then some of the star players began subbing out. Nani came off after 55 minutes without a goal but with a nice secondary assist and several highlight moments of skill.
“The name of the game is The Beautiful Game, so you need to do beautiful things,” he said. “And just the special players who’ve got the skills who can do it, so I had to put some performance on the field. The fans here, some of them know me very well from the time I was here, so I had to perform. I had to show something to make them excited to remember the good times (when) I was here, so that’s what it’s all about.”
The skies opened up with a torrential downpour shortly after Nani departed. Then kids started raining out of the stands and onto the field.
Pitch invaders had been an issue throughout the match, with about half a dozen isolated incidents that started before the match. When the rain started coming down, dozens of selfie- and autograph-seeking children and young adults started running onto the pitch to try to get their photo with a player or get a shirt signed.
The security team on duty was overwhelmed by the number of people coming out of the stands, and the players and referees ran down the tunnel. The game was abandoned “due to the weather” but it was likely a combination of the downpour and the lack of crowd control. About 15 minutes after the game was abandoned, the weather had cleared.
This match should serve as a warning to MLS about what to expect when Lionel Messi arrives and starts playing in the United States. Fans who have rarely had the chance to be so close to their idol — the Argentina talisman, who has a bigger worldwide following than anyone on tonight’s rosters and possibly more than both rosters combined.
This kind of pitch invasion is likely to happen when Messi plays in MLS — possibly every week — if the league and its clubs aren’t ready.
The Beautiful Game was enjoyable while it lasted, but it was marred by unchecked fanaticism, and that is both disappointing and frightening. Hopefully all involved in putting on this match have learned from the experience so that the good part remains and the bad part can be eliminated.
And hopefully MLS takes a good look at the video to prepare for Messi.
United States vs. El Salvador, Concacaf Nations League: Final Score 1-0 as Ricardo Pepi Lifts USMNT into Semifinals
Ricardo Pepi scored in the second half to lift the United States Men’s National Team to a 1-0 win over El Salvador in Concacaf Nations League play at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. With the win, the United States improved to 6-0-0 at Exploria Stadium and qualified for the Nations League semifinals.
“I don’t think we probably set the team up in a way that really helped them in the first half,” USMTN Interim Manager Anthony Hudson said after the match. “I think we made a couple of changes in the second half. It helped the team. The old cliche, two halves. The second half was way better. And then I have to give credit to El Salvador because I think coming off the back of a 7-1 win and playing at home, the confidence is high. And they’re a very tough team to play against.”
Hudson’s starting lineup was a strong one, starting with Matt Turner in goal behind a back line of Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson, Tim Ream, and Sergino Dest. The midfield consisted of Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, and Christian Pulisic behind a forward line of Alex Zendejas, Gio Reyna, and former Orlando City striker Daryl Dike, who returned to his old home stadium.
The first half didn’t present many clear-cut chances and El Salvador’s strategy of gumming up the USMNT’s attacking third worked well as the Yanks struggled to sustain pressure due to poor touches and less-than-ideal passes. The hosts seemed to be trying too hard to be perfect at times and the ball movement was either too slow or just not precise enough for much of the opening half.
The first chance of the game fell for the visitors, as Jairo Henriquez blasted a shot on goal in the second minute that forced a great diving stop by Turner.
“I knew it was a 1-v-1 situation versus the defender and I saw Weston pick up his head,” Pepi said about the game-winning play. “And I know he has the quality to play me that ball that I was looking for and he played the perfect ball, to be honest. And then I saw the goalkeeper come out and I just chipped him. It was a big eye contact thing. As soon as (McKennie) picked up his head, I knew he saw me and he saw the run I made and I was 1-v-1 versus the goalkeeper.”
The goalkeeper landed hard on his left side and needed some treatment from the training staff a few minutes later but he was able to play on.
The United States attack was thwarted with strategic fouling whenever the Yanks got into dangerous positions. However, the U.S. couldn’t execute on its set pieces. There was a good flick on from a Pulisic free kick in the 12th minute but it was just a bit too far out in front for Ream to get onto it.
Reyna fired from outside the area in the 29th minute butMario Gonzalez got down to make the save, knocking it out for a corner.
Dike drew a few fouls in the attacking end but nothing came from them. One of them in the 30th minute came after the big striker stole the ball and headed toward the box and was knocked down from behind. The foul should have resulted in a yellow card for a tactical foul halting a transition chance but referee Mario Escobar did not book the offending El Salvador defender.
Dest fizzed in a great cross in the 42nd minute for Pulisic but the captain couldn’t direct it on target and the chance was wasted.
That was it for a first half that saw the visitors fashion very little but the hosts were frustrated by the lack of space in the attacking end and everyone seemed reluctant to shoot when given space just outside the area. Dike didn’t receive much service and the closest anyone came to picking him out was snuffed out by good defending in the air as a well-timed bump from the center back kept him from getting onto a good cross from the right side.
The United States dominated the stat sheet in the first half, winning the battle of possession (57.3%-42.7%), shots (6-1), shots on target (2-1), passing accuracy (86.5%-76.3%), and corners (5-2).
“The first half, they put a lot of bodies centrally, so it made it a little bit more difficult to find pockets of space, to run in behind and do things,” Dike said. “But obviously with the good players we have here we were still moving them around, trying to create chances. At the end of the day, this man right here [grabbing Pepi] did a good job and saved the day.”
The USMNT came out of the locker room buzzing and nearly broke the deadlock seconds after the restart. A good ball from Pulisic sent Reyna down the left and he cut inside and unleashed a shot. The blast came off the left post but no one could get onto it.
Moments later, Pulisic fizzed a cross to the top of the six that came off a defender and skipped wide of the right post for a corner. On the set piece, the ball pinged around dangerously and fell to Ream, who fired a shot off a defender and it was eventually headed behind by the defense to relieve the pressure.
McKennie nodded a looping header over the keeper on the subsequent corner but it went just over the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
Zendejas nearly opened the scoring in the 52nd minute, chipping a shot over the keeper from inside the area but Bryan Tamacas cleared it off the line and out for a corner at the last second.
The second decent look for El Salvador came in the 60th minute when Mayer Gil fizzed a shot wide of the left post from outside the box.
Pepi then subbed on for Dike and it was a pivotal moment. Just moments after entering the pitch, Pepi made a run and Mckennie spotted him, sending a gorgeous ball down the right side of the box. Pepi ran onto it, fought off a defender, and chipped Gonzalez to open the scoring in the 62nd minute.
El Salvador had a chance to equalize three minutes later when a rare cross into the box nearly found Brayan Landaverde but he couldn’t make good contact with the ball.
The visitors started pushing numbers forward as the time wound down and it opened up some spaces on the counter. Substitute Taylor Booth picked out Pepi in the 79th minute and the former FC Dallas man fired a shot but the defense got a slight deflection and it went behind. A few minutes later, Dest picked out Pepi but the forward needed a touch to gain control and when he recovered, his shot was blocked by Gonzalez.
Pulisic had a chance to put the game away in the first minute of stoppage time, taking a pass from Brenden Aaronson to free himself up inside the area but he got under his shot, which sailed high.
That was the last good look for either side and the USMNT had the win it needed to advance to Las Vegas for the final four in the competition.
The U.S. finished with the advantage in possession (58.3%-41.7%), shots (16-4), shots on target (4-1 — the official stats have the visitors without a shot on goal but Turner definitely appeared to make a save in the second minute, so I’m giving them one), passing accuracy (87.5%-81%), and corners (13-2).
“(Hugo Perez) always has a very clear plan of how to have his teams play, and they made it very difficult for us,” Hudson said. “The second half, we were far more compact, for the most part, which allowed us to get closer to them when we put pressure on. We won the first ball and we had players close enough to win the second ball. So, I think that was something that that helped us.”
“It’s a great, great feeling,” Dike said about returning to Exploria Stadium to play and getting a warm reception. “It means a lot because this place gave me the first chance. The fans were always welcoming me. And then coming back, and after leaving and maybe a difficult decision, seeing everyone still supporting me no matter what is a great feeling, for sure.”
The USMNT will head to Las Vegas in June to battle it out for the tournament trophy.
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