RECAP: Battle for Florida Goes to Armada FC

Jacksonville downs Orlando City, 2-1, in intense start to rivalry
Feb 13, 2016

Mike McCall, | Feb. 13, 2016

Final Stats

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There are two ways to look at the Jacksonville Armada FC’s 2-1 win over the MLS’s Orlando City SC on Saturday night.

Both are very, very positive.

On the emotional side, this meant bragging rights over a rival fan base that stormed into Community First Park loud and proud, pounding drums and proclaiming themselves the “Football Kings of Florida,” as one flag said. (The Armada’s Section 904 supporters answered with a tifo depicting an “Instant Plastic Fan” toy called “Orlando Kitty.”)

But even from a more measured angle, stripping away the notions of a budding rivalry, there’s this: through 61 minutes where both teams relied on their starters, the Armada more than held their own, overcoming Kaká’s first-half free kick goal with a free kick from defender Mechack Jérôme and long strike from forward Alhassane Keita.

Yes, it’s preseason. Yes, both teams have only had a few weeks of training. And yes, winning now does not equal sustained success in the NASL season.

But this was a remade Armada team, featuring five field players who are new to the club, besting an Orlando City side that had just one new field player, as well as the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year (Cyle Larin) and a former FIFA World Player of the Year (Kaká).

“All due respect to their organization, but if anybody says it’s a friendly game and they didn’t care to get the win, obviously I would have to disagree with that,” Armada goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo said. “You could see the intensity those guys were playing with — especially in the first half. They were getting upset when they weren’t getting calls or when my teammates would steal the ball.”

That first half mostly belonged to Orlando City, as the Lions owned possession and forced Gallardo to make several key saves, none bigger than his rushing out of net to deny Larin.

While the Armada dealt with the OCSC attack well, a foul in the 31st minute handed Kaká a free kick in a dangerous area, and he beat Gallardo to open the scoring.

“From players like that you can expect anything, a moment of brilliance,” Gallardo said. “Obviously Kaká is a great player and he showed that tonight. The goal he scored is a beautiful goal, so I definitely have a lot more respect for him now after playing against him.”

But the Brazilian would be outdone on the night — depending on whom you ask.

Just after the break, the match morphed into a back-and-forth affair more worthy of rivalry status, and when Jacksonville forward Matt Fondy won a free kick, Jérôme lined up to take it more or less from the same spot where Kaká had made his.

The Haitian defender and former Orlando City player buried his too, setting off an explosion of noise, blue smoke and streamers from Section 904.

“I think I took it better,” Jérôme said, to laughter from himself, Gallardo and head coach Tony Meola. “Mine was a little bit further, so I did it better than Kaká tonight.”

That goal cranked up the intensity, as the teams traded chances until the 58th, when Keita won the ball in midfield, took a few touches toward goal and lashed a strike that took a slight deflection before beating Earl Edwards to give the home side a 2-1 lead.

Orlando made mass substitutions in the 62nd, and the Armada followed suit shortly after, leading to a mostly quiet finish.

Meola conceded his side was “picked apart” in the first half, but he was happy with how his players adjusted.

“The last thing we said coming out of the locker room was, ‘Find a way to win the game,’ and we did that,” Meola said. “The atmosphere probably gave them a little extra boost. I’m proud of the effort. I thought we were really organized against a very good team, especially in the second half when we figured it out a little.”

That atmosphere lasted after the final whistle, as both supporters groups stayed in their seats.

The Orlando City supporters launched into a chant of “Gallardo!” to serenade their former goalkeeper as he headed to the locker room.

Gallardo jogged over to the visiting fans and motioned to his heart.

“For me to come out after two years of not playing for their team, and them chanting my name — it was really special, and it made me feel proud of what I accomplished over there, but I’ve turned the page,” Gallardo said. “We have a really good team. The feeling I have right now is obviously satisfaction from winning tonight but also of excitement and hope that I believe we have a really good team and we can achieve something special this season.”

The Armada will be back in action on Feb. 24 at the University of North Florida before hosting the MLS’s New York Red Bulls on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. Tickets to the Red Bulls match, starting at $10, can be purchased by calling 1.844.2.ARMADA or visiting