Armada Log March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017

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.

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