Well before the start of the season, I reviewed the schedule for the National Premier Soccer League’s Sunshine Conference. Here are some key points:

  • The conference consists of seven teams who play each other home and away.
  • The second and third place finishers play each other on Wednesday, July 11. The winner of that match plays the first place finisher on Saturday, July 14.
  • The first two match weeks consisted solely of Miami FC 2 and Miami United playing their fixture.
  • Partially because of the above point, the final regular season match for Miami FC 2 was scheduled for June 27.
  • Miami United had games scheduled for each weekend (and no mid-week matches). Their regular season ends June 30.
  • Jacksonville Armada, on the other hand, had a game scheduled for Saturday, July 7.

At the time of writing that post, Miami United was the only team participating in the United States Open Cup. However, Miami FC 2 and Jacksonville were subsequently invited to participate. This has affected the NPSL schedule for both clubs as they had games scheduled for the weekend on which they won their play-in games for the Cup tournament:

  • Jacksonville’s match at Storm FC was rescheduled to Wednesday, July 4.
  • Miami’s match versus Naples United was moved to Tuesday, July 3.
  • Additionally, due to a conflict with the 2nd round of the USOC, Miami’s match versus Boca Raton was moved to Saturday, July 7.

Because of that, Miami FC’s nice break before the playoffs is now gone. This would not necessarily hvae been a concern for them, had they pulled off to a lead in the conference already. Alas, they played Miami United to a draw in both the away and home legs of that fixture. Their only relief came in the form of a draw against Jacksonville, a match in which they were without two starters due to red cards from the second Miami United game.

Miami United, on the other hand followed their draws with victories against Naples United (3-0) and Boca Raton (4-0). As they did not have any mid-week matches on their schedule, their are still poised to have at least a week and a half break before the playoffs (a full two weeks off if they snag the top seed).

Jacksonville travels to Miami United on Sunday, May 27 and hosts Miami FC 2 Wednesday, June 6. That key mid-week match is preceded by hosting Storm FC on Saturday and followed by traveling to Palm Beach United three days later. They host Miami United on Saturday, June 23, which is followed by a Wednesday/Saturday/Wednesday/Saturday run of matches to close the regular season.

This Saturday marks the first full weekend of conference action. In their season opener, Storm FC host Miami United. Palm Beach United’s first match of the season is at Naples United. Finally, Jacksonville travels to Boca Raton.

No one has a match scheduled for May 23, the third round of the US Open Cup. With Miami FC 2 and Miami United playing each other in the second round it is guaranteed that one will advance. Meanwhile, Jacksonville hosts Tampa Bay Rowdies.  The winners of those two matches will play each other in the third round, presumably.  The Jacksonville-Miami FC 2 match scheduled for June 6 would conflict with the fourth round of the cup, however, should either team advance that far.

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In front of Jacksonville’s home debut in 2018, here’s a look at the regulars who did not return to the club this season:

  • Caleb Patterson-Sewell – Jacksonville’s starting goalkeeper in 2017 set the club record for clean-sheets (10).  He signed with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC in February. He has made two starts for United Soccer League side Toronto FC II and kept a clean sheet against New York Red Bulls II. His performance in that match got him onto the USL Team of the Week for match-week 7. He was also on the bench for two of the parent club’s matches.

 

  • Kyle Nasta- The former University of North Florida goalkeeper came up from Jacksonville’s U-23 squad. He started in one match in 2017 (while Patterson-Sewell was serving his one game suspension). Nasta appears to have moved on from professional soccer; his LinkedIn profile indicates that he is a freight broker for SunteckTTS in Jacksonville.

 

 

  • Kalen Ryden – Jacksonville’s starting left-back made every start but one in 2017. He signed with USL side Real Monarchs in March and has played in each of his team’s matches so far.  He headed in two goals against Portland Timbers 2 (2nd and 3rd goals in the highlight reel below), on March 31 and has started 3 other matches for his squad.

 

  • Bryam Rebellon – Playing as a defender and midfielder, Rebellon made 14 starts and appeared in 23 matches for Jacksonville in 2017. He signed with USL’s Swope Park Rangers in January where appeared in the first three matches for his team and has made one other appearance since.

 

 

  • Devon Fisher – The defender who went to the same high school as my father (Indian River) in the same city that we did (Chesapeake, Virginia) made four starts (total of seven appearances) for Jacksonville in 2017. My cursory searches did not yield any clues regarding what he is doing now.

 

  • Kevan George – The long-time Armada midfielder is the only player besides Mechack Jerome to log more than 5,000 minutes of playing time with the club. Charlotte Independence of the USL signed him in January. He has started five matches (out of six).

 

  • Zach Steinberger – The scorer of 2017’s North American Soccer League Goal of the Year  is back home again in Indiana.  He has started in four matches and made appearances in the other two. It seems that the new manager of Indy Eleven is yet to sort out his roster and Steinberger has played a couple of different roles in midfield as part of the process.

 

  • Jack Blake – The scorer of Jacksonville Armada’s only hat trick so far and NASL Young Player of the Year in 2017 was initially loaned to Tampa Bay Rowdies in February, but signed a permanent contract with the team in March.   He has started five out of seven matches and scored a goal in the season opener against North Carolina FC.  He has also being doing a feature for USL called “The BlakeDown” in which he provides analysis of highlights from the previous week’s worth of league action. The most recent episode is linked below.

 

  • Jemal Johnson – The player with the most appearances in Armada history signed with USL expansion team Fresno Football Club in January. Most famous for scoring the first goal ever for Jacksonville, he repeated the feat for Fresno, though it took him a little bit longer, 73 minutes vice 12 seconds.  He has made seven out of eight starts and currently leads the team with three goals .

  • Nicklas Maripuu – The Swede who made 27 starts for Jacksonville over two seasons signed with IFK Mariehamn of the Finnish Premier Divison where he has made five starts. (source)

 

  • Brian Shriver – Acquired from North Carolina FC in a mid-season trade, the forward made five starts and appeared in another seven matches for Jacksonville.  He signed with USL’s Richmond Kickers in January and has started in all six matches for his new team. He scored goals in consecutive matches against New York Red Bulls II and Louisville City FC.

 

  • Tony Taylor – The Jacksonville University graduate with MLS experience scored three goals in twelve matches for Jacksonville last year. He signed with Ottawa Fury in February.  With five starts, he has appeared in all six matches for his USL side.

 

  • Charles Eloundu – The Cameroonian who scored three goals in three consecutive matches in the Fall of 2016 signed with Cyprus squad Nea Salamis. He has scored four goals in seventeen appearances (source)

Continued best wishes to all of them as they further their  careers.

94 North American Soccer League matches.

5 United States Open Cup matches.

1 National Premier Soccer League match.

With 100 competitive matches in the book for Jacksonville Armada, here are seven games that are memorable to me or otherwise noteworthy and three games that Jacksonville fans would rather forget.

1. “The Debut”, “12 seconds” – vs FC Edmonton – April 4, 2015

The first match in club history is still the biggest.  There were 16,164 fans at Everbank Field who did not have to wait long to see the home team score its first goal:

 

Goals by Alhassane Keita and Marcos Flores followed in the first half and a downpour of rain in the second half didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans remaining in attendance when the final whistle blew on a 3-1 victory for the home team.

Armada FC Sets Modern-Day NASL Attendance Record in 3-1 WinRecord crowd enjoys fast start, opening win for Jacksonville Armada

 

2. “Remembering Pulse Night Club” – vs Orlando City – June 15, 2016

Jacksonville’s first (and thus far only) competitive match against a Major League Soccer side was all but guaranteed to be a memorable one.  An off the pitch events and reaction to it made it so. The mass shooting at Pulse night club happened on Sunday, June 12. The US Open Cup match on the following Wednesday was Orlando’s first since the tragedy.

Armada supporters sported scarves from a LGBT Pride Night that Jacksonville had sponsored earlier in the season. In the 49th minute, the crowd, which included a healthy amount of traveling support for Orlando, the crowd stood for a minute’s applause in memory of the shooting victims. Orlando scored in the 62nd minute and despite a late attack, Jacksonville was unable to equalize. The match remains memorable, despite the result.

Despite Arguably Better Chances, Armada Falls 1-0 to Orlando City ,  Orlando FC edges Armada in U.S. Open Cup

While this scarf wasn’t made for Jacksonville’s US Open Cup versus Orlando, I will always associate this scarf with that match.

 

3. “Bonkers” – vs New York Cosmos – October 22, 1017

With a playoff spot on the line, 7,611 fans filled Hodges Stadium. While they did not get the hoped-for win, they cannot say that they were not entertained. Eight goals being scored by eight different players has a way of doing that. While Jacksonville enjoyed a 3-1 lead at half-time, New York scored the next three goals and was leading in the 77th minute.  Charles Eloundu equalized two minutes later. The match ended under wild circumstances as the referee blew the final whistle as New York were poised to score on an empty net and irate Cosmos players and staff stormed the pitch in protest.

(Alas, I was not at this match as it conflicted with my “one weekend a month” for the Navy Reserves. In my three years and counting as a season ticket holder, I have been lucky to miss few matches; this was an unfortunate exception.)

Cosmos comeback denies Armada in home finale,  The fight is not over

 

4. “First Road Win”, “Mark Lowry’s Debut” – at Ottawa Fury – August 13, 2016

Jacksonville went through four coaches and 25 matches before finally winning a game on the road. It came in Mark Lowry’s first match after taking the helm from Tony Meola. Ottawa scored in the 26th minute and Alhassane Keita was quick to notch the equalizer. As the minutes passed by, it appeared that it was going to be business as usual for Jacksonville away from home until Keita headed in a cross from Jemal Johnson to score the game winner.

Armada Says Goodbye to Road Winless Streak in Dramatic 2-1 Win, Keita, Armada end road woes

 

5. “Hot Finish” – vs New York Cosmos – October 15, 2016

This match has stuck with me because it made me think of old-time professional wrestling. When a traveling show featured an ending in which the bad guy came out victorious in sketchy circumstances, the promoters would advise local police that there was going to be a “hot finish” and that they should be on the lookout for angry fans departing the venue. While not by design, this match fit the template otherwise.

New York carried a one goal lead into the second half, which was equalized by Alhassane Keita in the 66th minute. Zach Steinberger scored in the 79th minute to give Jacksonville the lead and players and fans alike thought all was well. All hell broke loose three minutes later, however.  New York  scored on a free kick that Armada players thought to have been saved by Miguel Gallardo. Gallardo and Keita were shown yellow cards for their subsequent argument with the referee; the card was the second for Keita. An exceptionally furious fun of play followed and it did not end well for Jacksonville. A second goal on a free kick by Juan Arango followed to give New York a lead that was sealed by a Jairo Arrieta strike in the 95th minute. What looked to be an Armada victory ended as a 4-2 defeat that made the blood of Jacksonville fans boil.

Arango’s late free kicks deny Armada Armada Fall Short After Mounting Stunning Comeback Against New York Cosmos

 

6. “Jack Blake Hat Trick” – at Indy Eleven – August 26, 2017

The words “prolific goal scoring” and “road victory” were not ones that would be associated with Jacksonville Armada during its first two seasons of play, much less  together.  Mark Lowry has changed that somewhat. This match, in which Jacksonville went on the road and Jack Blake scored the first hat trick in club history is a reminder of that.

                                        The match that got its own t-shirt

Blake’s Hat-Trick Catapults Armada Back into Playoff ContentionBlake nets first club hat trick, propels Armada past Indy

 

7. “Tommy K Beats the Cosmos” – vs New York Cosmos – July 18, 2015

The inaugural Jacksonville Armada roster was a mishmash of international veteran journeymen and relatively inexperienced locals. Tommy Krizanovic fell into the latter category.  That did not deter him from scoring the goal that ended an 11 match unbeaten streak for New York and a 324 minute scoreless drought for Jacksonville.

Armada Smash Cosmos’ 11-Match Unbeaten Streak in Fall Home Opener , David Sierra, Jacksonville Armada hold off New York Cosmos

 

Honorable Mention: at San Francisco Deltas – May 19, 2017

This is certainly a moment of pride for Jacksonville during its period of league-ownership and subsisting on a shoe-string budget. Having traveled to Miami on a Wednesday night for a U.S. Open Cup match, Jacksonville came back home only to go back to south Florida to fly out for a Friday night match against San Francisco. Jacksonville fans watching the stream on Twitter were treated to a stellar performance that featured two goals by Zach Steinberger and one by Derek Gebhard to give the good guys a 3-0 victory. Jubilant fans dominated the accompanying chat in which Section 904 all but held a roll call. While San Francisco won the league, they never defeated Jacksonville

Steinberger shines as Armada sinks Deltas , Shutout Road Win Vaults Armada Into Second Place

Here’s hoping that 2018 gives Jacksonville some good home memories to add to this list; a victory against Miami FC 2 on June 6 would certainly fit the bill.

 

Those were some of the good. Here are three of the bad and the ugly.

1. at Richmond Kickers – May 27, 2015

Somehow I managed to watch the stream of this one from start to finish. In its first US Open Cup match, Jacksonville started a reserve side (one starter made his only appearance for the club in this match) against then third tier United Soccer League side Richmond Kickers. The result was painful to watch as Armada struggled while Richmond ran wild and scored two goals in the first half. Jemal Johnson came on at the start of the second half, but Richmond scored again to win 3-0.

Armada bounced from U.S. Open Cup, Strong Defensive Showing From Richmond Stifles Armada FC, 3-0

2. at Indy Eleven – August 3, 2016

As mentioned earlier, road games were not highlights for Jacksonville in the early days. This mid-week match was the worst of the worst. Eamon Zayed became the first (and thus far only) player to notch a hat trick against Armada and Indy scored the most goals that Jacksonville has ever conceded. Keita finding the net to end a 455 minute scoring drought for Jacksonville was the lone highlight of this 5-2 drubbing that could be thought of as the ignominious end to the Tony Meola era (though he did coach Jacksonville’s match three days later, a draw versus Carolina that marked his final match).

Keita Finds Back of Net in Loss , Scoreless streak ends but win eludes Armada

3. “Hotter than Hell” – vs Minnesota FC – August 20, 2016

This match was scheduled to be played in the evening. With Jacksonville’s quaint alternative football team playing a pre-season game at Everbank field that night, though, this match kicked off at 2:30 PM instead. The searing heat forced the supporters group Section 904 to decamp from its usual home in the (uncovered) right field bleachers behind goal to a covered section behind a corner of the field. Temperatures in the mid-90’s made for languid play in a match that featured only one shot on goal and ended in a 0-0 draw.

Armada and Minnesota United play to scoreless tieArmada Stifles Potent United Attack in Scoreless Draw

 

AFTER 100 MATCHES

26 wins 33 draws 41 losses

Most Goals: Alhassane Keita – 14

Most Assists: Jemal Johnson – 10

Most Clean Sheets: Caleb Patterson-Sewell – 10

Most Starts: Mechack Jerome – 67

Most Appearances: Jemal Johnon – 75

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.