RECAP: Armada Clamps Down on Union in 1-0 Win to Start 2016

Feb 6, 2016

Mike McCall, | Feb. 6, 2016
Photo by SE Sports Media

Final Stats

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Another win over the Philadelphia Union, another new era of soccer launched in Jacksonville.

Saturday night’s chilly, rain-soaked 1-0 victory wasn’t as flashy as Armada FC’s debut 3-1 triumph a year ago, but in the first preseason match of its second campaign, you could call this a bit of a rebirth.

In the 80th minute, Armada trialist Charles Eloundou one-timed a pass from Akeil Barrett up and over the Union keeper to get new head coach Tony Meola’s tenure off to a bright start. And based upon the formation and host of new signings Meola unveiled during his first match, the win ushered in what appears to be a sharp change in direction for the young club.

While the Armada was founded with an almost-fanatical devotion to offense — where allowing three goals could be acceptable if you scored four — the Meola system appears much less volatile.

“Those are my two favorite words: win and shutout,” Meola said. “My entire life, that’s all I’ve talked about.”

It’s clear that shoring up the oft-maligned defense was a priority, as the team came out with five defenders, including new signings Tyler Ruthven, Beto Navarro and Bryan Burke.

Arranged in a 3-5-2, Matt Bahner and Burke played on the outside as wingbacks and looked to fly forward into the attack, while Ruthven, Navarro and Mechack Jérôme formed a three-man central defense. Ahead of that group, Nicolas Perea and new signing Pekka Lagerblom patrolled central midfield, and Pascal Millien served as the attacking midfielder behind a forward pairing of Alhassane Keita and newcomer Matt Fondy.

Meola saw bright signs throughout, with the caveat that after only two weeks working together, there is a ton of work ahead.

“We talked about taking a step today, and the first step was being organized,” Meola said. “I thought we were organized the entire game.”

He singled out Burke for his success running down the right flank, where he was often an outlet for Millien, but that it created a defensive vulnerability between Burke and Jérôme that Philadelphia attacked frequently.

But after encouraging Jérôme to step out more and cover that channel, Meola said he was happy to see the team adjust successfully mid-game.

And while his focus was primarily on the defense, Meola saw sparks at the attacking end as well.

Keita had a goal called back for offside in the fourth minute after a great through-ball from Fondy, Union keeper Andre Blake was forced to make saves on both a Jérôme free kick and a close-range shot from Fondy, and opportunistic rebound shots from Lagerblom and Perea went wide and high, respectively.

“We’ve only worked on the back seven for two weeks,” Meola said. “We haven’t worked up top yet at all — that’s just soccer IQ on their part so you have to give them credit.”

Going forward, Meola aims to play out of a 4-3-3 formation in addition to the 3-5-2 they’ve worked in, and he hopes to have players back from injury (forward Jemal Johnson and midfielders Richie Ryan and Lucas Scaglia), as well as the arrival of forward Junior Sandoval.

His goal by the end of preseason is to be two deep at every position.

“Last year between injuries and losing guys to international duty, the team always seemed so depleted,” Meola said. “You don’t like losing guys, but it’s going to happen.”

The Armada will be back in action next Saturday when they host another MLS foe, Orlando City SC, at 6 p.m. Tickets, starting at $10, can be purchased by calling 1.844.2.ARMADA or visiting