Like Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC and New York Cosmos found refuge in the National Premier Soccer League after the effective dissolution of the North American Soccer League. All teams faced being ineligible for this year’s US Open Cup as a consequence.  Each were omitted from the listing of participating teams when the format for this year’s tournament was published earlier this month.

As lawyer and soccer fan Miki Turner aptly explains, however, this was an ostensibly unfair outcome for the three teams. That is because the timing of events left them no realistic opportunity to make themselves eligible for the tournament once it became clear that they wouldn’t be eligible via NASL affiliation. The teams protested to the US Open Cup Committee, which upon review of the situation, announced that the three teams are invited to participate  (all three did so in short order).

The teams, will not, though, enter at the same point in the tournament as they would have if they were still NASL afilliates. Nor will they simply enter in the first round. All will play against NPSL or Premier Development League teams in a “play-in round” held on the May 5/6 weekend prior to the start of the first round proper on May 9.  In the balance of this post, I will show the scheduling challenges Jacksonville and Miami face as well as identify their potential opponents in the play-in round.

As currently scheduled, the May 5/6 weekend is the first full slate of matches in the NPSL Sunshine Conference. Jacksonville plays at Storm FC (Lauderhill) on Saturday and Miami FC 2 plays at Naples United on Sunday. Those matches would need to be moved. Also, Miami has a game scheduled for May 12, the same date as the 2nd round of the Cup. The compact nature of the schedule makes rescheduling these matches tricky.

Both teams could simply move their May 5/6 matches to mid-week (May 2) That option is a little bit more appealing for Miami than Jacksonville as Miami is off on the weekend of 12/13, but Jacksonville plays at Boca Raton. Jacksonville could reschedule to May 19/20, but that would leave the potential for Play-In game -> Round 1 -> League Game -> Round 2 -> League Game sequence in a two-week span, a similar sequence to what they would experience if they rescheduled to May 2. The prospect of rescheduling to April 25 would be more palpable as it would give the opportunity of a tune-up match before the big match against Miami FC 2 on the 28th. (In these scenarios, of course, I am assuming facility availability is not a problem).

Miami’s scheduled match at Boca Raton on May 16 would conflict with a second round Cup match if Miami were to advance to that stage of the tournament. Short of moving that match forward (where there wouldn’t be many open windows anyhow, if Miami moved its May 5/6 match forward), the only open window is July 7/8, the last weekend of the regular season. Miami might not mind that, especially if they are positioned to be the number 1 seed in the playoffs.

As for Jacksonville’s and Miami’s potential opponents in the Play-In Round, their invitation states

The opponents in the Play-In Round will be one team drawn from the NPSL and two from the Premier Development League (PDL) who have already qualified for the competition and are in close geographical proximity to the three invited teams. After identifying the list of possible opponents meeting this criteria, the exact opponents will be selected by random draw in cases where multiple options exist.

There are a total of six already qualified teams that could be considered in close proximity to Jacksonville and/or Miami: South Georgia Tormenta FC (Statesboro), The Villages SC, SIMA Aguilas (Monteverde), Lakeland Tropics, FC Miami City, and Miami United.   In my following discussion, I am going to make two assumptions: 1. Every team is able and willing to host. 2. All teams are equally competitive within reason.

This table shows the travel distances between the various teams and Miami+Jacksonville as measured by Google Maps from stadium to stadium

Now, the USOC Committee could simply have Miami FC 2 draw one of the other two Miami teams as its opponents. That would not be fair to Jacksonville. It would me fairer to split the six potential opponents into two pots: The Miamis plus Lakeland in one pot (to be the opponent of Miami FC 2) and The Villages, Sima Aguilas, and South Georgia Tormenta in the other (to be Jacksonville’s opponent). Jacksonville would at least have a chance (albeit only 33%) to travel a shorter distance than Miami FC 2. In a worst case scenario, the two teams would travel 407 miles combined.

Putting all of the Florida teams in one pot would not improve matters; Jacksonville’s chances of having a shorter trip than Miami would drop to 30%. Also, it would open the illogical possibility of Jacksonville traveling to Miami while Miami FC 2 goes to The Villages;  630 miles combined.

Putting all six teams into one pot would be fairer yet for Jacksonville; their chances of having a shorter trip than Miami would improve to 40%. However, the worst case travel scenario would worsen to a combined 866 miles if Miami had to go to Statesboro while Jacksonville traveled to Miami.

The invitation does not make clear when this draw will take place.  One would presume that it would occur before the 1st round draw takes place on Wednesday (April 4), but it could simply be earlier in the day rather than earlier in the week. Either way, fans of Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC 2 suddenly have an eagerly anticipated event in the near future.




April 28 was the scheduled first home game for Jacksonville Armada this season. It has since been pushed farther back, to June 2. Despite that gloom, I have gotten more excited about the season to come. Part of that was due to listening to a Roots Up podcast episode that provided a nifty look at the Sunshine Conference of the National Premier Soccer League, the Armada’s home for the immediate time-being.

That episode caused me to take a peek at the schedule for the entire league. I found that while the Armada’s season does not start until April 28, conference play starts two weeks earlier, on April 14. I also noticed a couple of things that could affect who will represent the Sunshine Conference in the NPSL playoffs in July.

Jacksonville is one of seven teams in the conference. Miami FC,under the guise of Miami FC 2, is a fellow displaced NASL refugee team. After taking a hiatus in 2017, Pembroke Pines based Storm FC is back. Palm Beach United is the new name for Beaches FC. Boca Raton FC and Naples United joined in 2017. With last year’s champion Miami Fusion apparently folded, Miami United is the highest finisher from last year and is the senior team in the conference.

The season consists of 12 games played over 13 match-weeks with each team playing one another home and away. For the first time, the conference will have a playoff to determine its champion. The 2nd place team will play the 3rd place team mid-week at Central Boward Regional Park in Lauderhill on July 11. The winner of that match will play the 1st place finisher on the following Saturday with the winner advancing into the NPSL playoffs.

While there are 13 match-weeks, starting on April 15, the first full slate of games is not until the fourth week. The first two weeks of the season are only Miami United and Miami FC2 playing their pair of games with each-other. Both teams play in the third week (versus Jacksonville and Naples). Palm Beach United is the “odd team out” in the fourth week; the Miami teams will have both played four games before Palm Beach plays any.

As one might imagine, this sets up Palm Beach United for relatively hellacious fixture congestion.Starting on June 9, they play Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday (at Jacksonville), Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday without a break. Storm FC also has a notable period of congestion with five games played in the span of two weeks.  Miami FC 2 has a Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday run of games, all on the road.  However, that combined with playing in the first two weeks, sets them up to be the first team to finish the regular season with the final match falling on June 27, 14 days before the playoffs start.

Miami United, on the other hand, by the NPSL schedule, has a straight-forward 12 games in 12 weeks; no mid-week matches.  However, they are the only team in the conference eligible for the US Open Cup whose first round proper is on May 9 (middle of the conference’s fourth match week).  If they were to win, their next game would be on May 16. Because of this, they could receive a bit of match congestion as well. Like Miami FC2, though, they have a bit of a break before the play-offs as their last game is on June 30.

The prediction offered on the podcast by Route One Soccer,hints that the league will be a duke-out between Miami FC2 and Jacksonville with Miami United looking to clean up scraps and lead the NPSL regulars behind the NASL refugees.  One would expect that the first weeks of the season, with the two Miamis taking care of their series, will show whether Miami United is going to be in the mix for the top of the table or (at best) the best of the rest. With the third week of the season featuring Jacksonville at Miami FC2, the early part of the season may very well be key, assuming that the prediction is broadly accurate.

After the season opener at Miami, Jacksonville’s key games fall in the May 27-June 9 span. Those matches are at Miami United on a Sunday, followed by hosting Storm FC on a Saturday and Miami FC2 on the Wednesday following, and then going to Palm Beach on Saturday. Unlike the two Miamis, Jacksonville plays on the weekend before the playoffs begin. As such, they will be especially keen to establish themselves at the top of the table to get the bye to the conference championship game.

If events follow expectations, we may have a very good idea of how the play-offs will look by mid-June. Otherwise, it may come down to who catches the breaks of playing fatigued teams down the stretch or whether said fatigued teams can overcome. A reminder, though, that this all presumes fair weather. One tropical cyclone could put this reckoning awry; A footnote to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria was the storm’s impact on the NASL. The storm’s effect on Puerto Rico FC arguably affected how the final part of the season played out for playoff contenders.




As was the case last year, no one asked me for recommendations. I will offer a few nonetheless.

When I first started thinking about writing this post, I realized that (by my standards at least), I have not read many books this year. I went through a period of months where I was too anxious to sit down and get comfortable with a book.I didn’t appreciate how anxious I was until I came back from a week spent on the Appalachian Trail and “drifting” with my father in my Spitfire. The first time I curled up with a book thereafter, I realized what had been absent from my life for the past several months.

Due to that, I am inclined to think that I have read fewer books this year than any other year. There are three contenders :

  • The year I spent in Iraq.  Though I did read Don Quixote (and a few other books), so there is a quality over quantity argument to be made.
  • The year in which half of it was spent on deployment on the USS Spruance (RIP). Though I did get through half of the Master & Commander series during that time underway, so I doubt that I read more books this year.
  • The year I joined the Navy. While there obviously wasn’t much reading in the run-up to and during boot camp, I do remember doing a fair bit during ‘A’ school. I specifically remember re-reading James Webb’s A Sense of Honor as well as (for the first time) Fields of Fire .

There wasn’t anything disruptive like these events in my life this year. Just run-of-the-mill anxiety and unhappiness.

Anyhow, here are a few suggestions based on what I read this year:

  • The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan
    • This was a Christmas gift from my sister. One may struggle to find relevance to present time when reading about the western front of World War I, but will have no such trouble when reading about the eastern front. I bought a number of books as follow-up reading to this. I’ll mention two here:
      • The Berlin-Baghdad Express by Sean McMeekin
        • I ended up doing yet more follow-up reading of this books, which among other things covers how the Germans tried to use jihad as a weapon against the British.
      • When God Made Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the Creation of Iraq 1914-1921 by Charles Townshend
        • A story of mission creep and struggle under absolutely miserable conditions. Soldiers of this campaign who came from the trenches of the western front would say that the soldiers in France had no idea of how bad things can be. The largest surrender of British forces since Yorktown took place in Iraq.
  • The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
    • I found out about Mario Vargas Llosa via news of his winning the 2010  Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. In a marvelously random fashion, I have read most (but still not all) of his works. Only this year, I found and read his memoir (A Fish in the Water) , which describes a number of his life experiences that became enshrined in novels (as well as running for President of Peru in 1990). It was at that point that I became appreciative of how wonderful of an experience I have had reading his books in no particular order and glad that I didn’t come across his memoir until then.
    • This book, which is considered to be his masterpiece, was the first of his that I read. I shall not attempt to describe or explain it. I will just say that it is what got me locked into his works. I didn’t read this book this year, but I did read a couple of other of his that I would never have noticed or touched otherwise.
  • When Nobody Was Watching by Carli Lloyd
    • Emblematic of my lengthening queue of unread books, I bought this book when it was released last year, but I am pretty sure I didn’t read it until the winter of this year. The same was true of Abby Wambach’s memoir and I got far more out of Lloyd’s than hers. Having been dropped from the Under 21 Women’s National Team, Lloyd nearly quit soccer. She reluctantly met with a trainer named James Galanis who evaluated her and told her that she lacked fitness, was mentally weak, and had poor character. Eleven and a half years later, she would score a hat trick in the final of the Women’s World Cup.


With consecutive 1-0 victories over FC Edmonton and a scoreless draw against San Francisco, the Armada find themselves atop the NASL table after four match weeks. In this post, I will offer some perspective on this start, observations from last night’s match, and some thoughts on the atmosphere at the Armada’s new home, Hodges Stadium.

For a third consecutive time, the Armada won their first game at home. For the first time, they followed that with a win on the road. With the third game being a draw, the Armada had their best three game stretch since posting two (home) wins and a draw (away) in May 2015. Jacksonville had only one shutout win last season, they already have two this season.Three games of shutout soccer equals a streak they had from late September to mid-October last year. Let us not dwell on the fact that in the next game the Armada conceded four goals to the New York Cosmos, Jacksonville’s  next opponent.

To my regret, I did not record last night’s match, “a brutal draw” for Jacksonville and San Francisco. As Florida Times-Union beat writer Clayton Freeman tweeted


The match was weirdly chippy and it seemed like the referee had lost control within the first few minutes. The match ended with a total of six yellow cards and with four of them being awarded in the first half, it was a wonder that it ended with all 22 players still on the pitch. I won’t claim with authority that both sides were equally undisciplined, but I will say that there is good reason for both sides to have grudges to settle when they meet next time, on May 19 in San Francisco.

As evidenced by the results so far, the prime defense, Kalem Ryden, Mechak Jerome, Aaron Pitchkolan, Drew Beckie, and Kevan George, is very prime.  I don’t recall any runs of play for the Deltas that if they were repeated three times, would have resulted in a goal at least once. Scarily, though, there is very little back-up for that prime defense. One looks over the roster and becomes very concerned at the thought of the Trinidad and Tobago national Kevan George being on international duty  while one or more of the back four is injured or other-wise needs rest. I would think finding at least one more veteran defender, if not at least a couple more warm bodies, would be a priority for Jacksonville before entering the Fall Season.

The beginning of the Hodges Stadium era


3,472 fans attended the Armada’s home opener. 3,512 took in last night’s match. While those numbers are a fair bit below last year’s average (4,055), they fall right at the median attendance for last season (whose mid-week matches dragged down the average). Given that there is virtually no marketing for the games and the franchise is depending on season-ticket holders, youth soccer clubs, and University of North Florida students to spread the word and show up to the games, these are respectable figures. Consider, for instance, that there were only 4,133 in attendance for San Francisco’s season opener and 1,739 for their second home game. North Carolina had 6,058 in attendance for their first home match, but that figure dropped to  4,293 last night. While one would certainly like Jacksonville’s  attendance to be higher, it is at a good starting point.

In the Armada’s old home, Community First Park (soccer branding for the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville)  3,500 was probably about the smallest crowd that felt viable; anything less felt like an empty stadium and it really took around 5,000 to make what seemed to be a good crowd.  In the single stand of Hodges Stadium, 3,500 feels and looks like a vibrant crowd.

During the first two seasons, it seemed that the franchise tried to emulate the Jacksonville Sharks (arena football) approach to entertaining the fans: Loud and constant injections from the PA, whether it be music, exhortations from the announcer, etc. Obviously, there is only so much that can be done in game during a match,  so the emulation was only truly evident during pre-game and half-time, but it was present in-game as well.

Mercifully, in my opinion, this has been dialed back so far at Hodges Stadium, owing at least partially to the franchise’s current low budget existence. However, one could here echoes of the past last night, such as the “When I say ‘Ar’ you say ‘Mada'” plea and the “Ole, Ole, Ole, music”. Given the weak PA system, this did not come off very well. Given that the supporters group, Section 904 is in closer proximity to the fans, they provide an even better atmosphere than they did in the Community First Park era. There really isn’t a need for anyone else to fire up the crowd.

Last night was Naval Appreciation Night and Section 904, spurred on by the heated nature of the match and dubious referring, marked the occasion with an extra helping of saltiness. While this may pale in comparison to behavior in Europe**, I would like to think that Armada supporters are better than those the sort who throw motorcycles from the upper level of stands, throw lit flares onto the pitch, etc. A Supporter’s Group can be critical without being coarse.  Given the aforementioned reliance on youth soccer as a source of fans, it is in everyone’s interest to keep the presence of kids in mind. I would rather have Section 904 provide the atmosphere rather than having others try to inject; if the franchise feels like it has to do so, to keep the environment family-friendly, I wouldn’t like it bit I would see where they were coming from.

Enough of that. The Armada are atop the table, three games into the season, and unbeaten. Let us enjoy.

Here’s to you the famous white and blue
Duval loves you more than you will know

**Chuck Culpepper’s Bloody Confused has a section where he relates being amazed by the language he heard in the stands, even though he was a fairly grizzled American sports writer. Some explained by saying that English children are told by their parents “There are some words we only use at the football stadium. You mustn’t say them anywhere else.” While there may be a certain universal understanding of that in Europe, it certainly doesn’t exist in America and I wouldn’t count on parents adapting anytime soon.

Eight days after the North American Soccer League season began, Opening Day has finally arrived for Jacksonville and Edmonton. Here’s a few notes for today’s game.

  • We must of course, start at the beginning of this fixture’s history: Jacksonville’s Jemal Johonson scoring in 12 seconds, the first 12 seconds of Armada history.
  • Jacksonville’s all-time -record against Edmonton is 2-2-2, with both wins occurring in 2015.
  • Jacksonville have scored 7 goals against Edmonton. That is the most they have scored against any active NASL team (They scored 11 against now USL-affiliated Tampa Bay).
  • Edmonton have scored 6 goals against Jacksonville. That is the fewest scored by any of the seven teams against which Jacksonville has a full two season history.
  • Jemal Johnson is the only active Armada player to score against FC Edmonton (Alhassane Keita is Jacksonville’s all-time leading goal-scorer against Edmonton, having netted two).
  • No Jacksonville player has scored against Edmonton since Akeil Barret did so on October 17, 2015.
  • Edmonton’s Sainey Nyassi and Abdoulaye Diakité have each scored a goal versus Jacksonville. Daryl Fordyce, who has two goals and assist to his credit against Jacksonville, now plays for USL side FC Cincinnati.
  • The Armada’s Miguel Gallardo and Edmonton’s Matt Van Oekel were each in the net for five of the six games between their two teams. Gallardo has retired and Matt Van Oekel now plays for Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake. He was named to the MLS Team of the Week after keeping a clean sheet in his MLS debut against the New York Red Bulls.
  • Edmonton’s likely starting goal-keeper, Chris Konopka, made 26 appearances for MLS side Toronto FC from 2013 to 2015. While he was on the Vancouver Whitecaps roster for the latter part of 2016, he did not make any MLS appearances last season.
  • Jacksonville’s likely starting goal-keeper, Caleb Patterson-Sewell, spent 2016 with the Portuguese squad SC Farense.
  • Jacksonville defender Mechak Jerome has started and played every minute of the five games that Jacksonville has played against Edmonton since he joined the team.
  • Jemal Johnson has started in each of Jacksonville’s matches against Edmonton.
  • Today’s referee, Rubiel Vasquez , officiated the September 28, 2016 match between these two teams. He presented four yellow cards in the course of that match.

Here’s a bit of commentary on Jacksonville Armada news since my last post.

The Armada have moved away from downtown and their financially ruinous arrangement to play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Their new home is at the University of North Florida, which is located in the central part of suburban Jacksonville.

Back in 2014, before the Armada had settled on the Baseball Grounds, I thought Hodges Stadium was a reasonable place to go to, though I did see some downsides. A quick break-down of the pluses and minuses:

  • + Location. The stadium is likely close to dead center to where the fan base lives at. The university is an exit from Interstate 295, so it is very accessible for those coming from St. John’s County (to the south). The only parts of Jacksonville really disadvantaged by the move are the westside and downtown, neither of which are prime living areas for the bulk of the fan base.
    • Fans won’t have to worry about leaving exceptionally early for games to avoid congestion from other events going downtown or bridge closures. They won’t have a repeat of a Saturday night game getting pushed to mid-afternoon in the dead of summer due to a Jaguars pre-season game.
  • + Field quality. The Armada will be playing on an excellent pitch that is used only for soccer.
    • On the most recent episode of the Bold City Soccer Show, the guys discussed how a few players commented on the “fill-in” grass that covered the infield; they could tell the difference and it affected their play.
  • + Credible venue. The stadium seats 12,000. It’s not the only field that has a track going around it (Indy Eleven play at The Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium) or is college owned (Indy Eleven and Miami FC, who play at Florida International University).
  • – Simple venue. Unlike Indy’s and Miami’s the Armada’s home consists of a single stand, which runs the length of one side of the field. All bleachers.
    • That means there really isn’t much that can be done to set up different tiers of ticket pricing. For this season there’s three tiers of pricing for season tickets that only vary by $3/game.
    • Concession facilities are pretty limited. Food trucks are the only solution I can think of for this issue, but the layout of the stadium may not make that feasible.

Overall, I’m happy with the move (admittedly easy for me to say as I live only a couple of exits south of the UNF campus). I am concerned though about the challenges that the Armada will face to counter the perception that Hodges Stadium  is a marked step down from the Baseball Grounds.

NASL Releases 2017 Schedule

Only two Wednesday night games this year. Read my previous post to understand why this is significant. It was a little bit disappointing to have our season start one week after everyone elses. However, in 2015, we opened the season at home on April 4. There wasn’t another home game until May 2 and there was another long gap in the fall season that year as well. 2016 also had long gaps in-season. In 2017, the only long stretch between home games, July 1-July 30, straddles the Spring and Fall seasons. Besides the opening “bye week” followed by playing Edmonton twice, there isn’t much quirky about the schedule. I noticed, though, that we will have played the rest of the league twice before playing Puerto Rico on June 25. This is meaningful because I suspect Puerto Rico will be one of the less challenging opponents for the Armada this year.

Armada Adds Defender Aaron Pitchkolan, Forward Jonathan Glenn

Armada FC Signs Defenders Drew Beckie and Michael O’Sullivan

Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell Signs with Armada FC

Standout Midfielder Zach Steinberger Signs With Armada FC

Only through the pre-season have I been able to appreciate a couple of these items. Aaron Pitchkolan is a veteran defender who is providing leadership to the squad. Drew Beckie has been fun to watch coming up from the back to attack on the right. A goalkeeper with international experience replaces fan favorite Miguel Gallardo (who is doing local television broadcasts for Orlando City this year).

The most immediately exciting news was the return of Zach Steinberger who was on loan to the Armada from the MLS squad Houston Dynamo last season. He generated a lot of excitement for the boys in blue down the stretch last season: 79th minute equalizing goal against the New York Cosmos (before all hell broke loose and the Armada ended up losing by two goals). Two assists in the victory against Miami FC. Two assists and the game-wining goal against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. His is probably the most important of all the roster returns and additions.

The Jersey

In its inaugural season, the Armada had  fairly simple (one color) home and away jerseys for the Spring, with a compressed timeline for preparation being cited as a reason for their simplicity (Upgraded jerseys debuted for the Fall Season). With that experience in mind, it wasn’t a surprise to see simple jerseys for the Armada this season. Maybe not as simple as they turned out to be, but it wasn’t a shock to me.

You really have to admire the effort put out the Armada staffer who was up to the challenge of finding things to point out and praise.

One oddity is that in reverse of previous seasons, the home jerseys are white while the road ones are blue. This may be an effort to keep the Armada in light-colored uniforms as much as possible so that they aren’t cooking in the summer sun.

People will immediately note the lack of a sponsor.This is a consequence of the Armada’s uncertain ownership situation. On the Soc Takes podcast, North American Soccer League interim commissioner Rishi Segal repeated his remark that the league is “making progress” towards finding new ownership (Armada discussion is around 27:15-30:15 marks).

That is the dark cloud over an otherwise hopeful season. The team is operating in a bare-bones manner with very little in the way of marketing and promotion. The team alone will bear the burden of making fans want to come out at watch. As part of his stop in Jacksonville as he makes his way on The Soccer Tour, Steve Bernasconi discussed the operating challenges with the Armada’s head coach, Mark Lowry:

There is no doubt Lowry is up to and enjoys this challenge. After the intra-squad scrimmage in February, a member of the Armada staff commented how from Lowry’s first day as interim head-coach, there was marked change. He posesses a clear vision and he is getting total commitment from his players.

While a number of draws served to obscure the degree of improvement the Armada made after the departure of Tony Meola, there was progress to be noticed. After 26 failures, the Armada finally won on the road. The hot ending to the New York Cosmos match in October showed that the players were still fully engaged and not just riding to the end of the season. That game was followed by consecutive home victories to end the season.

The roster may not be the most impressive, but the continuity in the form of Mark Lowry brings coherence. Unlike 2015, there isn’t a mish-mash of foreign players and locals. Unlike 2016, fans won’t be confronted with not recognizing anyone who’s on the pitch and struggling to understand the match-to-match changes in lineup that were common towards the end of Meola’s tenure.

One week until opening day. I am not the only one who cannot wait to get the long uncertain off-season in the past and get around to watching the Armada in action.

There is a fair bit of uncertainty regarding the upcoming Jacksonville Armada season. Questions abound such as  “Where will the team play?”, (almost certainly not its home for its first two seasons, Community First Park, AKA the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville), “Who will be in goal? (the team does not have any goal-keepers under contract at this time), and so on.

One thing that is certain is the nature of the season. On January 20, the North American Soccer League announced that 2017 league play will consist of eight teams will play sixteen games in both a spring season and a fall season.  After thinking about it for a moment, my reaction was similar to that of Florida Times-Union write Clayton Freeman.


Reaction on Twitter from supporters of NASL teams featured a bit of puzzlement, as well. While many were happy that the league’s previous practice of having a spring season that was half the length of the fall season (but whose titles counted equally) was a thing of the past, there was doubt over why the schedule wasn’t balanced. Why not just have 8 teams playing their opponents twice each season such that there would be two 14 game seasons? It seemed so odd to me that I almost seriously wondered if someone made a “fencepost error” and mis-calculated the number of games that would make up a balanced schedule.

The acting commissioner of the league, Rishi Sehgal, has answered the question in a consistent fashion during interviews. This, for example, is from Sehgal’s interview with Raleigh based writer Neil Morris

“Primarily because we wanted to give more games back to the fans. It was a long off-season without soccer, and the desire was to create more excitement about the competition rather than create a short season. I’ve read rumors out there that we had penciled in other teams to play and then canceled them. That speculation is just speculation. The decision was made to have as many games as possible and focus on the competition.”

There is something about adding “bonus” games in this manner that has bothered me. There are 32 weekends from the season-opening weekend to the weekend before the playoffs start (March 25-October 28).  In the past, and Sehgal suggests that this will be the case in 2017 as well, there is a break between the two seasons. That means that there aren’t enough on which to play games. Some games will be played mid-week.

As an Armada fan, this concerned me, because there was a noticeable difference between attendance for the weekend matches and weekday matches last season. I mentioned this to Clayton Freeman on Twitter and he helpfully replied with the stats:

Admittedly, the drop of 43% wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. One could argue that the number attendance dropped from was at least as problematic as the drop itself. That is, dropping 43% from a weekend of average of 8,000 isn’t that bad. When you’re only getting 4,000 fans on the weekends, though, the result is games that are money-losers. (Playing in an active baseball stadium, the Armada paid a city subsidized, yet still hefty fee, for converting the baseball field to a soccer pitch; Empire of Soccer cited a cost of $70,00 per match)

Being curious as to whether such drops were common across the league, or a problem unique to Jacksonville, I compiled the numbers for the past two seasons across the league. The figures are pretty interesting.

In 2015, eleven teams played each-other once in the Spring and  twice in the Fall. That meant for five home games in the spring and ten in the fall.  During the fall, most teams played two home games mid-week, while Atlanta played three and Edmonton, Indy, and Tampa Bay played only one. The following table shows each team’s average weekend attendance, weekday attendance, and the percentage difference between the two.


Atlanta 4294 2947 -31%
Edmonton 2872 3120 8.6%
FTL 4858 1955 -59%
Indy 9956 8500 -14%
Jacksonville 8261 5760 -30%
Minnesota 884. 8275 -6%
NY 5314 3522 -33%
NC 4728 3307 -30%
Ottawa 5228 4751 -9%
San Antonio 7036 4509 -36%
TB 5619 4691 -16%


A few of these numbers are skewed a little bit. Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, and New York all had season openers with attendance that was out-sized compared to the rest of the season. Adjusting those towards normal attendance improves the drop by 5% or so for each team.  Un-adjusted, the league-wide figure suggests an average attendance drop of 25% from weekend to mid-week.

As one can see, not everyone was hurt by mid-week games; the 3,120 at Edmonton’s compared favorably to some weekend games that had 2,000 or fewer fans in attendance. Similarly, neither Ottawa’s or Minnesota’s games ranked atop the list of most lightly attended home matches. Elsewhere, however, the attendance drops were significant.

In 2016, the Spring season consisted of eleven teams (but not the same eleven as in 2015, since Miami and Oklahoma City replaced Atlanta and San Antonio) playing each-other once. Puerto Rico joined in the Fall season to make its season twelve teams playing each-other twice.  This made for five home games in the Spring and eleven in the Fall. Jacksonville played one home one-game mid-week in the spring; the only team to do so. Jacksonville played four mid-week games at home during the Fall; again this was exceptional as all other teams played only two home games mid-week. (One of those mid-week Jacksonville games was not scheduled as such; Hurricane Matthew pushed a would-be weekend match against Indy into the week.) As was the case in 2016, some teams, particularly the southern ones, took significant attendance hits during the week.

Edmonton 2092 1836 -12%
FTL 1484 437 -71%
Indy 8585 7075 -17%
Jacksonville 4055 2278 -44%
Miami 5259 4854 -8%
Minnesota 8775 7154 -18%
NYC 3829 3402 -11%
NC 5323 3201 -40%
OKC 3209 3472 8%
Ottawa 5591 4700 -16%
PR 4350 1329 -69%
TB 5992 5076 -15%

The figure for Fort Lauderdale is not a typo; they only had 873 fans total at their two mid-week matches. The crowd for Puerto Rico’s  mid-week games were roughly half the size of that for their most lightly attended weekend match.  As was the case in 2015, Jacksonville and Carolina had big drops in attendance for mid-week games.  The drop for the Cosmos wasn’t as bad… but the figure for weekend-games was worse than in 2015.  Edmonton,Indy, and Tampa managed to keep the gap reasonably small.  The figures for Miami and OKC are a bit wonky. Miami had some games with horrible attendance in the Spring.  OKC managed to have their mid-week games before the franchise started to fall apart. Otherwise, their numbers would have likely been comparable to Fort Lauderdale’s.

Pardon a slight digression as I elaborate on the Armada. As mentioned earlier, Jacksonville played in an active baseball stadium; their home schedule was dictated by the home schedule of the AA baseball team.  As home-stands that wrap around two weekends are not uncommon, the Armada were left with some tight windows for home games, hence the excess number of mid-week games.  Cruelly, those were the games most poorly attended. The crowd for the mid-week Spring game was ~500 fewer than the lowest attended weekend game. Of the four Fall games, only one had higher attendance than the lowest week-end game (that week-end game had 2,516 fans in attendance; it was played on a scorching afternoon in advance of a Jaguars pre-season game). Weather was not a factor for the depressed attendance. In 2015 the only games affected by weather were the season opener (15 minute downpour in the second half) and a Saturday night game that was delayed by lightning. Similarly in 2016, the only games with unpleasant weather were during the weekend. The only mid-week game that had understandable poor attendance was the rescheduled Indy Eleven match; there were still Jacksonville residents without power on the night of that match.

League-wide, I calculated the 2016 drop in attendance from weekend to weekday games to be 27%, nearly identical to the drop observed in 2015. The drop isn’t so big to suggest that the average fan does not go to mid-week games. It is certainly large enough, however, to suggest that adding games to the schedule yields diminishing returns if the games in question are going to be played mid-week. A 28 game schedule fits into the given March 25-October 28 window fairly nicely; 14 week-end games each season and each team gets a week off as well as a two week break between seasons. Fitting a 32 game schedule into that window with a a an equal amount of rest means that each team would have to host two mid-week games each season.

If franchises are going to be on the hook for that many mid-week games, it appears that some will have to put some serious focus on how to make those games better attended. It certainly appears that Tampa did something that the other southern teams didn’t.

The other puzzler with the unbalanced schedule is how it’s going to work. It would be more evident if the teams were more evenly distributed geographically and everyone had a local rival. Under those conditions, it would make sense for the extra games to be merely just an extra home and away game against the rivals. Alas, the 2017 NASL is not like that.  Here’s my best effort of making the unbalanced 32 game schedule work in a cost-efficient manner :

  • Each team plays each-other home and away twice
  • Puerto Rico, Miami, and Jacksonville play each-other home and away an extra time.
  • Indy, New York, and North Carolina do the same.
  • San Francisco and Edmonton: Y’all are going to love to hate each-other!  Two extra matches, home and away!

This, of course, could make things a wreck balance of competition-wise. From a competition stand-point, the only fair way to do it would be to assign the extra games pseudo-randomly.  As a few have noted though, that could bring delights such as Puerto Rico making extra trips to Edmonton and San Franciso, etc. Adding those extra trips, for any team, doesn’t make sense.

Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense to  have extra games that one can reasonably expect to have reduced attendance. As a season-ticket holder who is concerned about the feature of his team and its league, I am not in support of this unbalanced schedule as it has been presented.