Armada FC Sets Modern-Day NASL Attendance Record in 3-1 Win

By Mike McCall, Writer
Apr 4, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (April 4, 2015) – Leading up to Jacksonville Armada FC’s inaugural match, much of the focus surrounded a push to break the modern-day North American Soccer League mark for attendance—a drive dubbed #SetTheRecordJax on social media.


The Armada set that record, and then some.


On an evening that turned from cloudy to soaked at EverBank FIeld, 16,164 fans filed in to watch a 3-1 win over FC Edmonton that also featured a new NASL record for fastest goal, thanks to Jemal Johnson’s strike 12 seconds in.


It was a statement win for the expansion club, which finishes its first week tied with three other teams on three points on top of the NASL standings.


“What can I say? I’m very excited,” forward Alhassane Keita said. “This was a historic game tonight. We showed to everybody that we’re ready. It’s not just today, we want to be like this throughout the season.”


Keita—named one of the league’s top 11 players to watch during preseason—showed his class with a goal in the 43rd minute, and Marcos Flores added the third in first-half stoppage time before Ritchie Jones pulled one back for Edmonton in the 52nd.


The tone was set from the very beginning.


After waiting more than 15 years for the return of pro soccer, Jacksonville only had to wait 12 seconds to see the ball hit the net.


Eight seconds in, Johnson received a pass about 30 yards out from goal, turned to his left and noticed FC Edmonton keeper Matt VanOekel out of position. Without hesitation, he let fly with a vicious right-footed strike that VanOekel never got close to, setting off a raucous celebration both in the stands and on the field.


“It was absolutely amazing. As you can see I’ve done a lot of shouting as soon as I scored,” a hoarse Johnson said afterward. “The coaches gave me the confidence that whenever I get the ball, to make sure the first thought on my mind is to connect with the ball correctly and get a shot on goal. Thankfully tonight it’s happened for me.”


The goal bested the previous NASL mark of 26 seconds, held by Fafà Picault of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Johnson’s former club.


It was a delirious start, and there was more in store.


In the 34th, the Armada had their next opportunity when Jaime Castrillon played a perfect through-ball to Keita, whose shot went wide of the post.


That may as well have been a shot across the bow.


Ten minutes later, Keita ran up behind Edmonton center back Mallan Roberts, who was about to take control of a lobbed Armada clearance. But the lightning-quick Keita managed to slip around Roberts from the left, poke the ball through his legs and take off toward the goal. From a few yards outside the penalty box, he ripped a low right-footed shot across a diving VanOekel to double the lead in the 44th.


And on the next possession, in stoppage time, midfielder Bochy Hoyos ran onto a throw-in near the end line and whipped in a cross to forward Marcos Flores, who delivered a vicious, driven header into the net to make it 3-0.


With 74 percent of possession in the opening half and all three strikers on the score sheet, everything had gone according to plan. But the second half brought both driving rain and a determined response from Edmonton.


“Santa Claus came to town in the first half with the goals we gifted Armada,” FCE coach Colin Miller said. “It’s not printable what I said at halftime to them, and you saw the response from them in the second half.”


The Eddies controlled most of the second half, bringing their total share of possession for the match to 47 percent. In the 52nd, Manchester United youth academy product Ritchie Jones got on the score sheet when he took a pass from Lance Laing and beat Armada keeper Miguel Gallardo on a tight angle inside the near post.


Otherwise, the Jacksonville defense was able to cope well.


The Armada made a few changes from their expected lineup, starting midfielder Lucas Rodriguez at left back, moving left back Lucas Trejo to center back, and pushing Matt Bahner out to his more natural right back spot.


Center back Fabricio Ortiz got off to a rough start, when he botched a header in the 5th minute, had to foul to prevent a breakaway opportunity and picked up a yellow card. But he was a force from then out, coming out wide to break up attacks and then pulling in tight with Trejo to clear out crosses.


Lucas Scaglia joined in on the defensive dirty work from his role at holding mid, also earning a yellow for a hard tackle in the 32nd, and Bahner came up big with a block just in front of goal during the second half.


Edmonton had two other good looks in the closing half, but put one shot over the bar and another wide while Gallardo clamped onto crosses despite the wet weather.


The victory paralleled the Armada’s 3-1 win against the MLS’s Philadelphia Union in February, which was also played at EverBank Field, featured a preseason attendance record and three first-half goals.


Johnson said the energy of the crowd played a major role in both wins.


“The fans definitely make a huge difference for us,” he said. “I remember going and playing away at Charleston in front of maybe 40 or 50 people, and then you come into a stadium like this with that atmosphere, and fireworks, it’s huge. I think we’ve got a few players who drive off that sort of atmosphere. It’s definitely showing, and that’s how we’ve gotten the three points today.”


It was a clear statement of intent from a team and fan base that they plan to make an impact during their first year in the NASL.


“I think the club and the fans can be very, very proud of what they’ve accomplished here tonight, other than us playing like a pub team in the first half,” Miller adding some advice for the Armada to not underestimate the rest of their schedule.


That warning isn’t lost on Johnson, who said the players held a meeting earlier in the week with “a few choice words” after going 3-4 in the preseason.


“It’s sort of a psychological switch we had, coming into this season where we may not have gotten results we wanted in preseason,” he said. “Thankfully now, everyone has got it, and we’re definitely going to go through this season and make history. That’s what we’re going to do.”


The Armada will take the field again next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for their first away game.