Battle for Florida Begins

Armada FC prepares for much-anticipated showdown against Sunshine State rival Orlando City
Feb 8, 2016

Armada FC Public Relations | Feb. 8, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the Jacksonville Armada FC may be still be drying off from its rain-soaked opening preseason victory over Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, the focus turns now toward in-state MLS foe Orlando City SC in a highly-anticipated matchup.

Either team need only turn once on their respective highway journeys (Interstate 95 and 4) to reach each other, making them the closest regional rivalry in the Sunshine State. Yet, until now this contest has never come to fruition. With the year’s first battle for state supremacy looming only days away, supporters groups, players, and southeastern soccer fans are brining with anticipation.

“I think it is important to talk about winning,” said Tony Meola, Armada FC head coach and technical director. “Whether it is winning the NASL or winning the US Open Cup, for me, you have to win your state first. We have a lot of teams in Florida, so it’s a fun rivalry. This game doesn’t have any bearing on our NASL season and our championship run, but don’t get me wrong, this match means a lot to our boys. This is preparation for April 15.”

While both teams are coming off expansion campaigns in their respective leagues, Orlando City’s history in Florida soccer extends a bit further and these teams are no stranger to each other. In fact, they share some unique parallels.

Armada FC goalkeeper and first club signing Miguel Gallardo played six years under OCSC head coach Adrian Heath (two as the Austin Aztecs) and four impressive seasons in Orlando. In his 81 career appearances with the club, he was named 2011 USL Goalkeeper of the Year and compiled a 0.733 GAA. Gallardo backstopped the Lions to 2011 and 2013 USL Championships and a 2012 USL regular season title. Saturday’s contest will mark the first time he will share the field with his previous side since leaving central Florida.

“It is going to be special, for sure,” said Gallardo. “(It will be great) to see some of my former teammates, the ones who are still there, and play against guys that I played alongside for six years. It is going to be a bit surreal to face the coach that I worked with for so long.” 

He added: “It is going to be an exciting game for everyone here. For us, it is important to obviously win the game because our goal is to win every game. It is going to be exciting for both fans and as professionals, no game is a friendly game.”

Two Armada defenders, Bryan Burke and Mechack Jérôme, spent significant time on the Lion’s backline before the club’s transition to MLS. Jérôme appeared in 14 matches during Orlando City’s 2011 USL Championship run and scored one goal with three assists in 20 games for the club’s 2012 regular season title. Burke racked up 26 appearances and scored three goals in two seasons with Orlando City, winning the USL Championship in 2013 and helping lead the team to the USL Commissioner's Cup.

Additionally, Orlando City selected Armada’s Jamaican forward Akeil Barrett in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft but released him in February 2015, allowing the speedy ball handler to join the Armada FC inaugural roster in March 2015.

Even the Armada FC coaching staff shares a connection. Following three years in the OCSC U.S. Soccer Development Academy program, assistant coach Mark Lowry left to join the Armada FC as an interim assistant coach toward the end of the 2015 season.

The Lions are now a second-year MLS squad who come packing with a star-studded lineup. Orlando City fills its starting lineups with the likes of World Cup Champion, former FIFA World Player of the Year and Brazilian International Kaká, U.S. International Brek Shea, MLS Cup MVP Frenchman Aurélien Collin, Canadian International and 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year Award Cycle Larin, just to name a few.

Heath carries a deep roster with a development program to back it. However, even with a glittering roster, the Lions ended their inaugural MLS season in the same fashion as the Armada did theirs, missing the playoffs, slipping to seventh in the Eastern Conference and 14th overall.  

This coming Saturday at Community First Park will be a captivating occasion in downtown Jacksonville and the buildup only adds to the suspense. With the banter escalating between both clubs’ supporters’ on social media, it is clear that “friendly” is just a title and bragging rights are on the line, despite the fact the game has no bearing on either team’s standings.

The match will kick off at 6 p.m. and tickets, starting at $10, can be purchased by calling 1.844.2.ARMADA or visiting