The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are fully aware that few expect them to advance past the NASL’s semifinals round, but the status of underdogs is one that the team is more than willing to accept and embrace.
After qualifying for the postseason on the last day with a result against the Jacksonville Armada, the Strikers are set to face off with the top-seeded New York Cosmos on Saturday at Brooklyn’s MCU Park.
Set to take on the most historic, talented and well-budgeted team in the league, the Strikers know that there is a lot of work to be done, but the team believes it is their willingness to do that work that might just make all the difference.
“I think all of the pressure is on New York,” defender Jonathan Borrajo told SBI. “I think all of the pressure is always on the bigger team. It’s a good thing sometimes to be the underdog. New York is playing at home, so I think the pressure is on them. With it being Raul and Marcos Senna’s last game, possibly, I think the pressure is mostly on New York. No one is expecting the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to get the result, so I think the pressure is on them.”
“When we went into Jacksonville, we knew it was a do-or-die situation,” added defender Frankie Sanfilippo, “and we still kind of have that feeling that no one really expects us to be here. We just need to show what we do and, hopefully, get a victory against the Cosmos.”
Victories against the Cosmos proved impossible to come by for the Strikers this season.
Amassing seven of the possible nine points, the Cosmos proved throughout the regular season that they were the better team en route to a Combined Standings triumph. Featuring firepower like Raul, Senna, Lucky Mkosana and Leo Fernandes, the Cosmos emerged as the NASL’s best regular season team.
“I don’t follow that as a reference,” Savarese told SBI. “For us to say that we beat them twice and tied one, those are numbers that we can turn to, but I’ve seen every game that we’ve played against them has been difficult, and every game they have posed difficulties to us.
“They have interesting players that can change the game, but they also have weaknesses. We are analyzing, looking into it, but the most important thing is our attitude and our intensity in the game and trying to take advantage of the things we’re going to work for.”
For the Cosmos, the focus will be heavily turned towards the Strikers attacking trio of PC, Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho. The trio of Brazilians combined for 29 goals during the regular season, although PC has missed the Strikers’ previous three games due to injury.
The main task for the Cosmos will be keeping the Brazilian contingent at bay, while allowing their own star-studded attack to get on the front foot early and often.
“They are three very good players in the league,” Savarese said of the trio. “We know that they’re going to pose difficulties to us because they’re talented players that had a good season, but it’s about us being able to do the things that we have to do for this match, just making sure that we’re aware.
“We know these players very well, what their strengths are and, as a team, we know the things that they do well. We will continue working on that and making sure that we understand that, but there are also different things that we can take advantage of.”
The Strikers, specifically, will look to take advantage of the ball when it comes to limiting the Cosmos’ attack.
According to Borrajo, the old adage is one that proves true: you can’t score if you don’t have the ball. A possession-based team themselves, Borrajo says the key to the game will be out-possessing, out-thinking and out-hustling a dangerous Cosmos team.
“If we can have the ball more than New York, they can’t hurt us,” Borrajo said, “and if we can make them defend more than they want to, New York never wants to defend, that’s where we can be dangerous in catching them and I think if we can have the ball more than they would like us to, then we can frustrate them and hurt them.
“I think we just have to keep it tight and keep a good balance at the back and in the midfield,” Sanfilippo added. “At the same time, we have a good offense too, but the players they have, they have quality all over the pitch and you can’t make any mistakes in the back or in the midfield because they can damage you. That’s what the Cosmos are good at. We just have to keep it tight and be strong and take it to them.”
The Strikers know full well that the task at hand will be difficult, while the Cosmos are quick to state that they are not underestimating the team sitting in front of them.
After a regular season of dominance, the Cosmos must repeat the performances of the prior months in a one-off clash, one that will vault a team into a title clash.
“Right now, everybody has a clean record,” Sanfilippo said. “You can forget about the regular season, and right now, we just have to concentrate on the playoffs. It’s a do-or-die situation. There’s no tomorrow. You have to fight like its the last game you’re ever going to play.
“Everybody has to have that right mindset and I think it’s a tough situation, but we just have to go to New York. They’re the New York Cosmos, everybody expects them to win, but it’s going to be a tough challenge. I think everyone is up for it and I think it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”