Bayer 04 Leverkusen and the youth squad representing VfL Wolfsburg both scored victories in the opening round of the 2017 Florida Cup. Both played in a doubleheader Sunday in St. Petersburg at Al Lang Stadium, with Die Werkself defeating Argentine side Estudiantes de la Plate on PKs after 90 minutes while the VfL jungs downed home side Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USL in the nightcap 0-2 on a pair of first half goals by midfielder Robert Herrmann. Leverkusen play Wednesday evening at the ESPN Complex in Orlando against Atletico Mineiro while the Wolfsburg youth play another Brazilian side, SC Bahia, on Thursday evening. Both matches, like the doubleheader, will be streamed on Fox Soccer 2 GO.
Estudiantes 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Die Werkself overcame a 1-0 first half deficit to win on penalties 2-4 after 90 minutes of play. Alexander Dragovic scored the winning PK after Stefan Kiessling, Charles Aranguiz and Julian Brandt connected while Admir Mehmedi missed his chance. Backup goalkeeper Ramazn Ozcan made two PK saves in the Leverkusen goal to make Dragovic’ effort the game-winner.
The red-clad Estudiantes side got on the board in the first half. At the 33rd minute the Argentines took a quick throw-in and caught Leverkusen a bit offguard, as a ball into the box couldn’t be cleared and Carlos Auzqui slid a low pass across the box to a waiting Elias Umeres, who made no mistake delivering the ball. Leverkusen had been caught out a few times earlier on some long balls down the flanks but recovered but this time Nelson Vivas’ side cashed in. Chicharito had a chance to equalize in the 40th minute on a rather harsh PK call, but his low shot lacked great velocity and was saved by former Catania goalkeeper Mariano Andujar, a veteran who also played for Napoli and Palermo. The good play of Estudiantes was dampened a few minutes later, though, when Rodrigo Brana earned a second yellow and was shown the exit sign, leaving the Argentines a man down the entire second half.
The second half also saw wholesale lineup changes, including the substitution of 17 year-old midfielder Sam Schreck into Roger Schmidt’s lineup, and the teenager had an impressive showing. The youngster displayed pace, elusiveness and maturity beyond his years, and his effective work paid off when he knotted the scoreline in the 70th minute. A ball from Charles Aranguiz was directed towards Stefan Kießling , but didn’t reach its intended target but instead bounced into the path of a zipping Schreck, who knocked the ball past Andujar. A well-deserved reward for Schreck’s play and the upturn in Die Werkself’s effectiveness due to second half subs Danny Da Costa, Brandt, Kießling and Jonathan Tah.
Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-2 VfL Wolfsburg
The Rowdies, playing in their home stadium, had some loud support in the nightcap of Sunday’s doubleheader, but couldn’t best the youngsters sent to the Florida Cup by Wolfsburg, who kept their senior squad training nearer home after all the turnover at the club the last few months.
It only took the baby Wolves five minutes to get a game-winner, as Robert Herrmann beautifully curled a free kick from just outside the box into the near corner. Hermann scored again in the 41st minute as he wound up and launched a blazer from the center of the field after taking a low cross well.
The Rowdies did not feature many veterans, although the experienced Keith Savage came close to scoring twice in the first half. They played some trialists and players who played little due to injury last season, and their highest-profile star, former Liverpool and Chelsea man Joe Cole, did not dress for the match. Nevertheless, the Wolfsburg youth played well, as 14 members of their squad have international experience at the junior level. Winger Herrmann, 23, who played for Hannover’s and Union Berlin’s reserve teams, was the star with his well-taken goals.
It was a chilly day in central Florida, with 50 degree temperatures and a breeze making it less than an ideal January day in the sunshine state. The crowd was, I’m sure, less than what was hoped for, although the Rowdies’ stadium is a very nice venue along the water and the field looked in fine shape.
Impressive was the amount of Wolfsburg fans who made the trip from Germany. I would guess there were at least 50 supporters sporting the colors of the VW club and they were clearly supporting the young Wolves. Any disappointment in not having the Wolves’ senior squad in Florida was overcome by their support of the youngsters and the Wolfsburg fans deserve major kudos for showing their loyalty.
Among the Wolfsburg youth was a young American forward, Orrin McKinze Gaines II. The 18 year-old Texan transferred last July from Lonestar club to Wolfsburg, and has scored five goals, with six assists, for the Wolves’ U19 squad this season in 14 matches. Good for Americans to have another youngster in Germany to cheer for and hopefully Gaines can follow in the footsteps of California’s Haji Wright, who is currently training with Schalke’s first team after playing for the Royal Blues U19s.
The support of Chicharito is still solid despite his struggles this past Hinrunde. I was hoping he’d be successful with his PK opportunity but. while not a terrible effort, it was too easy for a veteran of big time football like goalkeeper Andujar. The great Mexican seems to lack a bit of confidence, but I know in interviews he feels like he’s playing fairly well, just not getting the goals.
This is Leverkusen’s third appearance in three Florida Cup competitions. At last year’s opening Florida Cup press conference, Werkself executive Michael Schade noted Leverkusen’s success in the 2014/2015 Ruckrunde, and of course last season the club were gangbusters down the stretch. For Leverkusen fan who have had to absorb a disappointing Hinrunde, it is hoped that some more Florida magic will help DIe Werkself rise quickly up the table to a Champions League spot.