By: Logan Alexander
Finally, the North American Soccer League returns to action on Saturday July 4th, but Armada hit the pitch in a pivotal and winnable game at Ottawa on Sunday. In the last meeting between Jacksonville and Ottawa, the two teams played to a 0-0 draw at Community First Park which saw a dominant performance by the boys in blue, but they could not finish any opportunities presented throughout the 90 minutes. Now, in a tight race towards the top of the table, points are as precious as can be and playing an average Ottawa team is a great start for three points early in the season for Jacksonville.
When checking out the schedule at the beginning of the year Ottawa Fury were pointed out on the calendar as easy wins but they have proved to possess less of a vulnerability than we all thought. Since May 2, Ottawa have not given up a goal in NASL play, an accumulation of 526 minutes in total from when New York Cosmos were the last team to break down the defense. Also, goalkeeper Romuald Pieser received honors for being named ‘Goalkeeper of the Month’ for the month of June and has only let eight goals by him in ten matches. Brilliant play from the goalie position, along with a superb defense consisting of the likes of Rafael Alves and Colin Falvey, have kept the Canadian side in contention this year.
Problems with Ottawa Fury FC arise when you focus further up the pitch. Canadian international, Julian De Guzman, has been inconsistent in the central midfield position after being hyped as one that will be a star in the NASL. In eight starts, De Guzman has no goals and no assists and it seems to be that the only player making an impact on the team is central defensive midfielder Nicki Paterson. Paterson, who is not even a striker, leads the team in goals with two, which is 40% of the team’s overall goal tally. In over 2,500 minutes and between five forwards, Ottawa have only scored one goal and that came way back on April 18th when the Fury defeated Minnesota United FC 1-0. On another note, the team from the North have not celebrated any goals since May 23rd, a span of three matches that all ended 0-0, one including Jacksonville. Luckily for the club, their defense has been a rock and has earned them five draws, gaining points when the attack could not do much. Before the weekend action begins, Ottawa Fury FC sit 9th in the table(2-5-3, 11 points), yet only one point back of Jacksonville Armada.
After a long wait and having to endure the mid-season NASL break, Armada return to face Ottawa in a must win game. Sure, it is only the first match of the Fall Season in the league, but as early as it is, points are delicate and Jacksonville need to stick with the top of the table as soon and as much as possible. A topsy-turvy Spring Season led Armada to finish sixth in the table with 12 points and a 3-3-4 record, which is not horrible but there can be improvement most definitely. A win is necessary on Sunday due to playing a team like Ottawa and if three points are gained, Jacksonville could potentially rise to 3rd place in the table. Though, Ottawa is not a team to take lightly. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Ottawa defense has not given up a goal since May 2, and that includes a match we hosted in June. Attack after attack continued a building of frustration for Jacksonville as they could not break through the Ottawa back line after a very dominant display in the clash only a few weeks back. Speaking of a few weeks back, Jacksonville were without a certain player which altered their attacking ability heavily, but he is set to make his return to the league.
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, and to the millions of you reading. The man, myth, and legend has returned to the Jacksonville Armada lineup. Alhassane Keita will be in action on Sunday afternoon after coming back from a hamstring injury he suffered against Atlanta on May 16. After playing a 90 minutes against Boca Juniors in last weeks friendly, Keita looks poised to make his prominent return to the squad, a squad that lacked in goals during his time on the sidelines. Armada went goalless through three matches and scored just five during the striker’s lengthy spell off of the pitch. With Keita unable to play, Marcos Flores featured up top at the striker role which led to less chances created in the midfield.
At the joy of Alhassane Keita emerging from an injury ridden month and a half, it must be negatively noted that Pascal Millien has departed Jacksonville Armada due to international duty. The right-wing playmaker for the Fleet has joined the Haitian national team and will be unavailable for the next few Armada matches, a blow to the attacking force. Millien leads the team in scoring with four goals and has one assist also to his name. Expect to see the Armada player feature for Haiti when they take on the USA in group play of the Gold Cup on July 10th.
Luckily for Jacksonville there is one good piece to this puzzle. There is lack of depth in ability at the striker position but there is one player who can fit just nicely on the wing and that is Akeil Barrett. The rookie player has shown to be electric in attack, absolutely changing the dimension of matches when he steps foot on to the pitch. Seeing Barrett in place of Pascal Millien for the next few weeks would be excellent to witness, as that is his prime position. With this move, Marcos Flores will be able to play where he flourishes and we will see a strong Armada team that we viewed before injuries plagued the roster.
Jacksonville will win this match 1-0 and gain three clutch points in a huge playoff race. Ottawa’s goalscoring woes will continue while Armada will dominate the game, but only find one goal to put to their name. Alhassane Keita will brand his return with a huge goal to lead the boys in blue to victory.