2015 Finish: 11-11-8, 41 points (4th in Combined Standings)
Head Coach: Caio Zanardi, First Season
Key Acquisitions: Bruno Cardoso, Maicon Santos, Matheus Carvalho, Aurelio Saco Vertiz, Kleberson, Geison Moura, Jean-Marc Alexandre
Key Losses: Stefano Pinho, Marlon Freitas, Frankie Sanfilippo, James Marcelin, Shawn Chin, Aly Alberto Hassan, Jonathan Borrajo,
Coming off yet another season in which they failed to hoist the Soccer Bowl, the 2016 incarnation of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have their eyes set on the prize.
Despite losing the NASL MVP, Stefano Pinho, as well as nearly the entire squad that took Fort Lauderdale to the playoffs, General Manager and Head Coach Caio Zanardi, brought in a new crop of talented South Americans that he hopes will make the difference in 2016.
When it was all said and done, 19 out of the 24 players on the roster are brand new to the club, and following a front office restructuring, which saw the Strikers move to a yearly calendar and being its offseason in January, the club hit the ground running.
With the season set to kick off this Saturday versus Miami FC at Lockhart Stadium, Zanardi is aware that they are facing an uphill battle to start the season but sees the opportunity the club has.
“We will have a little bit of difficulty [at the start] because of the injuries that occurred due to our accelerated offseason program,” says Zanardi. “Nevertheless, the expectations are high.”
Having to hit the ground running, Zanardi praises the team’s trip to China in early March and credits the club’s gelling process to it, “Playing in China was great for us, not only as a coaching staff, but also for the players, as they were able to be around each other day in and day out.”
Much like last season, the Strikers are expected to lean on a talented young attack.
Playmaker PC returns to lead a midfield with plenty of Brazilian talent.
Youngster Matheus Carvalho, and veterans Kleberson and Adrianinho are expected to support him on either side. are expected to support him on either side, as Fort Lauderdale will have plenty of creativity in the attacking third while limiting the damage of losing a star like Pinho.
“Kleberson’s presence in our club is very important,” says Zanardi. “He has a vision for the game that few can rival, he’s very humble and has so much experience, which helps the younger player get better and in turn the whole team as well.”
One of the biggest issues Fort Lauderdale faced last season was the lack of defensive depth, “If you saw our matches last season, you could see defensive problems,” added Zanardi. “I believe we fixed the problem by bringing in high-quality players.”
With a new goalkeeper in Bruno Cardoso, the Strikers have a 6’5 Brazilian with a tremendous 10-year career at Palmeiras, where he was named the Best Goalkeeper of the Copa do Brasil in 2012.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity of playing the United States. Being goalie is a funny position,” joked Bruno. “You don’t want to be talked about too much because that means things are going well.”
To help Bruno avoid the spotlight, Fort Lauderdale brought in NASL veterans like Gale Agbossoumonde, Julius James and Nana Attakora.
“We have a very young team team in regard to playing together, but we have a strong team,” added Bruno. “Caio is an amazing coach, and his credentials speak for themselves. Our main focus is winning the Spring Season, that way we are automatically in the NASL Playoffs in the fall.”
Bruno’s sentiment is one that regenerates throughout the entire locker room,
“The Championship is definitely within our reach,” says forward Guiseppe Gentile. “We have a deep squad, we have a lot of talent in the mixture of young guys and veterans and I believe that shooting for the title is not far-fetched.”