Armada FC sets preseason attendance record in 3-1 win over Union

Feb 8, 2015

Box Score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (February 7, 2015) — Ever since the Armada FC was formed in 2013, general manager Dario Sala has been promising the new NASL franchise would bring exciting, attack-minded soccer to Jacksonville.

One match in, consider that promise delivered.

In front of a modern era NASL preseason record 13,934 fans at EverBank Field, the Armada rode three first-half goals to a 3-1 win over its MLS opponent, the Philadelphia Union.

"We promised exciting, attacking and very direct football, and I think we showed that in the first 25 minutes tonight," Sala said. "For two years we were working for this moment, and it has finally come true. We’re really pleased."

Those 25 minutes were a whirlwind, featuring goals by defender Fabricio Ortiz (7th minute) and forward Alhassane Keita (11th minute), along with a slew of other chances. Lucas Trejo added the third via a penalty in first-half stoppage time.

The attacking philosophy was clear from the get-go, as Armada FC deployed fullbacks Trejo and Shawn Nicklaw high up the field, used Miguel Gallardo as a sweeper-keeper and went hunting for goals.

After weathering a few early crosses from the Union, the home side began to get its way.

Keita controlled a throw-in near the touch line and won a corner, which captain Jaime Castrillon played short to midfielder Bochy Hoyos. Hoyos whipped the ball into the box with his left foot, and when it was knocked down, defender Fabricio Ortiz surged forward and blasted a shot into the net for the first goal in franchise history, seven minutes into the match.

The dream start turned downright surreal from there, as the Armada nearly netted another via multiple headers one minute later. After another corner, Keita sent a shot over the crossbar, but the 31-year-old Guinean was far from done.

Less than two minutes later, Keita ran onto a through-ball from Pascal Millien down the right wing, juked the first defender, pulled keeper Andre Blake into no man’s land and then coolly rolled the ball in for a 2-0 lead in the 11th minute.

Seconds later, Keita nearly doubled his tally when his shot hit the post and bounced across the goal, prompting a "We want three" chant from the Armada’s supporters club, Section 904.

As co-head coach Jose Luis Villarreal put it, via Sala’s translation from Spanish, "To be fair, in those first minutes, the score could have been 4-0."

Instead it was 2-1, as the visitors struck before the home fans could get their wish for a third.

Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams beat Trejo and sent a through ball across the field, where it was met by a streaking Andrew Wenger. Wenger put his shot across Gallardo to the far side of the goal to cut the gap in half in the 24th.

That would be Gallardo’s only blemish. He faced nine shots on goal during his 57 minutes of action and made eight saves, and he even started a goal-scoring chance by finding Keita with a punt two-thirds of the way down the field.

The attacking mindset started with the man in goal, as Gallardo was quick to distribute from the back and even ventured far out of his penalty area to keep pressure on the Union.

"Well it’s a risky style of play isn’t it, but we believe we have the right players to play such a style," Gallardo said. "Even with higher-level teams, you don’t see that. … I think it showed what we’re trying to accomplish. It showed we’re trying to defy expectations."

After the furious start to the match, the rest of the first half quieted a bit, slowed by mass substitutions by the Union.

Andrew Wheeler nearly tied the match in the 45th minute but was stopped by Gallardo, and as the game moved into stoppage time, the Armada flipped the switch again.

Trejo made a surging run through the penalty area and picked up the ball from Jemal Johnson, and before he could get a shot off, the Union’s Aaron Simmons brought him down for a penalty kick.

Trejo finished what he started, calmly chipping down the middle as Blake dove to his left, setting a 3-1 halftime tally that held through a scoreless second half.

As more substitutions came in the second half, Villarreal characterized latter portions of the match as evenly played before his club killed off the clock with possession.

In all, Philadelphia used 30 players and the Armada used 20, giving both clubs a chance to survey their rosters as they gear up for the season opener against FC Edmonton on April 4.

"If we believe just because we won today that we accomplished something, I think we’re in the wrong," Gallardo said. "We definitely take today as a confidence booster, but there’s a lot to work on. There are a lot of things we want to accomplish and an identity we want to have, and we’re only going to accomplish that at practice. Hopefully come April 4, which is the most important game for us, we can have more identity on the playing field."

With only two weeks of practice together as a unit and with the full coaching staff, the Armada have plenty of room for improvement. But on an evening that brought pro soccer back to Jacksonville for the first time in 16 years, the club and fans deserve a moment to revel in the identity they’ve crafted thus far.

"I feel so glad to be part of this dream," Sala said.

The Armada’s preseason will continue on Feb. 28 against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.