Amidst a three game unbeaten streak including wins against the San Antonio Scorpions and Indy Eleven, plus a tie with Atlanta, the Armada were stopped in their tracks by a strong Minnesota United squad. Goals from Pascal Millien and Jemal Johnson were not enough, as the Loons pulled away with a 3-2 win against the Boys in Blue, shattering the hopes of a Spring Championship for the first year team. Now, we turn our attention to the U.S. Open Cup as Jacksonville Armada FC travels to the City Stadium to take on the Richmond Kickers in Round Three. Before Minnesota is left in memory, it is important to look at the major headlines of the match.
We knew Alhassane Keita would not be in the line up due to a hamstring injury that happened last week at Atlanta, and he looks doubtful for the rest of this upcoming week as well. How much did we miss the Guinean on Saturday night? Let it be said, we need him back in the squad as soon as possible. In the first half against Minnesota United, the Armada attack was not firing on all cylinders due to the fact that we did not have a recognized striker on the pitch. Pre-game, Marcos Flores was lined up at a center forward role, but after ten minutes he dropped back into his preferred center attacking midfield position with Bochy Hoyos and Jaime Castrillon rotating at striker. For the most part, Armada played decent in the first half, controlling the midfield and shutting down the dangerous MUFC attack in the defense. The problem arose when the ball was being further advanced up the pitch. JJ and Pascal did great work all night, I mean fantastic work, but they had no one in the middle to work with comfortably. The only opportunity the Armada had in the first 45 was a ball played by Flores through to Jemal Johnson, but his attempt was saved by Sammy Ndjock. Other than the chance five minutes into the match, our attack broke down very easily every time the boys found themselves in the attacking third. Finally Akeil Barrett was substituted on by Guillermo Hoyos and rhythm was found amongst the front line, but it was too late and an equalizer could not be found. Keita needs to be back in the squad, but this leads to an important question about the night…
Why did Akeil Barrett not get the start?!
As a Minnesota United fan handed us the starting line-ups for the match, I immediately face palmed and asked why Akeil Barrett did not get the start? It’s Akeil’s time to shine while Keita is out with his hamstring injury and he definitely deserves a starting position due to his recent play. When the Armada met Jacksonville University in pre season and Barrett got the start, immediately he looked like a player of quality. His quality was shown against San Antonio when he set up the winning goal for Keita, and in his substitute appearances he looks full of life when he comes onto the pitch. With the roster Armada have, no other player can back up Alhassane Keita as well as Akeil Barrett can. It just feels as if Barrett got the start against Minnesota, that the Armada would have generated many more opportunities on goal, and potentially the outcome could have been different. Even if Guillermo did not want to play him at Striker, Jemal Johnson or Pascal Millien could have slid into the role and Akeil could have played his general position at winger. Armada needed Barrett on the field in the first half against Minnesota and because of him starting on the bench our attack was dead.
After the match on Saturday night Adam Garrett tweeted at David Sierra “Great performance last night. Tough result though. Keep your head up.” In reply, David Sierra stated “Thank you Adam! Too many times we are playing against 12 in this season and Thats too difficult … Thanks for your support!!” Goalkeeper David Sierra was spot on in his post game remarks via Twitter. Many times in the season, Armada have come across below average referees and some controversial calls which have caused the team to suffer in the table because of it. Though it is our fault for not overcoming decisions and how games are officiated, there have been a fair share of situations where Jacksonville have been wronged. In Fort Lauderdale earlier in the season Armada got no calls at all going their way, along with much time wasting at the end of the match that was not added on to added time. In Tampa, arguably their penalty was a dive, and it looked to be but it was a stupid decision by Lucas Trejo to blindly stick his foot out on Maicon Santos. Against San Antonio, the referee let the match get out of control and only gave a yellow to a Scorpions player that deliberately hit Keita in the face. Luckily Armada got out of that match with all three points. Finally it appeared that Atlanta’s goal in the first minute was offside, but the linesman waved it off and Jacksonville had to charge back to receive a draw. Watching the game back from Saturday night, the referee was spot on with calls on the second goal and third. Matt Bahner gifted Minnesota’s Tiago Calvano with a failed clearance that found its way right to the player who slotted home to put the Loons up 2-0. On the third goal, Trejo was weak and couldn’t stand his ground against a strong Pablo Campos. With Lucas Trejo on the ground, Campos found an easy pass to Miguel Ibarra who hit the net to secure the third goal. Must it be noted, Trejo was not fouled at all on the play. The first goal was a bit iffy in my mind. Kalif Alhassan danced his way past five Armada players and then Lucas Rodriguez obstructed the opposing player, resulting in a penalty call in which Campos slotted home. Replaying the scene, Alhassan lost control of the ball after getting past the Armada last defender. When the ball reached David Sierra, then Lucas Rodriguez came in with a hip check but even that did not look like much. Alhassan went down too easily and he lost control of the ball before he was “fouled” therefore there should not have been a called penalty. There is no going back now, and the only hope is that NASL will find better referees to officiate these matches. It’s professional soccer in the second division for crying out loud, not amateur league. With this being said, there should be PROFESSIONAL referees officiating all of the matches in the league that are actually decent at their job.
Sierra instead of Gallardo?
This swap at goalkeeper position definitely was one of the major talking points after the match. It was said that Gallardo was a healthy scratch, but why was he a healthy scratch in the biggest game of the season? Honestly, the blame is on Sierra for the third goal and why he was 18 yards out of his net during this play, no one has a clue. Along with being out of position on the goal, all night he looked uncomfortable on the ball and does not look like a keeper able to play in the role that Guillermo Hoyos wants him to play in. Especially without Fabricio Ortiz and a makeshift defense at the start, it did not help the team to leave Gallardo on the bench. Miguel Gallardo is coming off of solid performances with a 0.66 goals allowed average over the past three weeks before Minnesota, including a clean sheet against Indy Eleven. If the manager wanted to play Sierra, at least save the second choice keeper for Richmond, a game we are likely to win anyways. The experimentation in the squad should have been saved for a later date and against Minnesota was at the worst time.
Armada MOTM, Lucas Trejo
Umm…what? Lucas Trejo received man of the match against Minnesota United? He deserves a gold star for trying to defend against Minnesota United. Jacksonville Armada gave up three goals in the match, which should already spark the debate that a defender should not have gotten the man of the match award. Regarding the three goals allowed, Lucas Trejo got manhandled by Pablo Campos and fell very easily, which led Campos to easily go around and play a ball through to Ibarra which led to the winning goal. Trejo is the weakest link on the team and did not deserve the award, and it may be argued that he gives the least amount of heart for the squad. What would have happened if he stood his ground against Campos? A third goal may have not happened. Maybe for a change Nicklaw should get the start instead of him, or Hrustic? If anyone deserved the MOTM award, it was either Pascal Millien or Jemal Johnson. For the full 90 minutes, the two lads tirelessly worked up and down the sideline, defending and attacking, and also constantly being in the right positions at the right time. Millien and Johnson scored on the night as well, so either of the two would have been worthy of the honor, not Trejo.
Sights set on U.S. Open Cup
The Spring Season championship looks far off now due to the loss at Minnesota so it is time to turn the attention to the U.S Open Cup when the Armada face Richmond Kickers in Richmond. If Jacksonville wins up north, the Columbus Crew will come to town on June 17th to face the Armada in what might be the most exciting match of the year. Mark Frisch, owner of Jacksonville Armada, has stated that the U.S Open Cup is a priority and that he wants to win it all. Who wouldn’t mind winning it all? The winner of the Cup automatically receives a place in the Concacaf Champions League and what a feat that would be for the Jacksonville Armada in their first ever season. Also, an away trip to Costa Rica and Mexico to support our team would be so rad, but it all starts with Richmond on Wednesday!