Armada Log April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017

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
Whoaaaaaaaa

**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.

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