By: Logan Alexander
Let’s be brutally honest here and there is no reason to sugarcoat any material in this article, but the Jacksonville Armada are not good and we saw this on Sunday afternoon when the squad took on Ottawa Fury in the NASL Fall Season opener. Sure, we were all on an emotional high halfway through the Spring Season when Armada sat 2nd place in the league but it is July now and we know what reality looks like. Since May 16th, week after week, Jacksonville have continued to slip and slide down the table and now the boys in blue sit in 8th place after their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ottawa. If you didn’t throw a fit after watching the team’s display this past weekend, you are being questioned.
Sunday started how we all thought it would for Jacksonville: Possession and full control. Though Jacksonville took control in the opening minutes in Ottawa, the attack looked absolutely lost when going forward, like it always does whenever we face up against a defensive minded team. Surprisingly enough, Ottawa did not play the same style as to when they traveled down south to Community First Park in June. In the opening minutes Jacksonville saw all of the ball but it did not take long for Ottawa to begin executing their game plan. Instead of sitting back as far as they did in that match, the home team terrorized the Jacksonville Armada with a high press up the field, disallowing a good flow of passing and any offensive breakthroughs. Regularly in the NASL we are allowed to freely possess the ball and work around the pitch at our own pace, dominating teams in possession, but that wasn’t the case Sunday. We were forced to play at a higher tempo than normal and had to make decisions quicker than are used to due to our chill system of play. The counter attacking football style also took its toll on a makeshift back line in which Fabricio Ortiz was rotated out of the lineup for Nurdin Hrustic due to injury.
Jacksonville paid the price for not taking opportunities with as much of the ball that they had. Hrustic was caught out of position and Miguel Gallardo was forced into a great save in the 12th minute to deny Carl Haworth a goal. On the ensuing corner kick Ottawa took the lead due to a poor header out of the box, and horrid man marking in the area. A wide open Fury player was found in the box due to a failure of man marking which included a ball watching episode by Lucas Trejo and Nurdin Hrustic. Forward Andrew Wiedeman’s shot hit off of the post and was expertly saved off of the line by Lucas Scaglia, but three Armada players stood flat-footed during the play and Mason Trafford cleaned up the scraps to smash the ball into the back of the net.
Jacksonville was absolutely shut down in the midfield and along the offensive front. Marcos Flores, does anyone remember hearing his name during the match? The Armada playmaker was isolated all match at the striker position and at a time I even forgot he was on the pitch. No player with his ability was in the midfield linking plays together and that is one main reason why Armada failed to make a mark on the match. JJ was the most influential player on the pitch and he did not even have a great match himself, getting bullied all afternoon by the strongest defense in the league. At the end of an uneventful half, Armada only recorded three shots and one that hit the target. On the opposite side of the field, Ottawa had seven shots and one hit the back of the net.
Armada found themselves in the match after the second half whistle sounded. Ottawa dropped even deeper after scoring the first goal and were still playing counter attacking football, but Jacksonville on several opportunities broke the wall down. In the 63rd minute Jemal Johnson sprang down the left flank past two Ottawa defenders and delivered a cross right to the head of Jaime Castrillon. The Armada central midfielder sent the header into the ground and it was creeping into the corner of the net until Ottawa defender Rafael Alves headed the ball off of the line, which has been noted as a play of the week nominee. Just two minutes later Ottawa came stampeding towards the Armada defense on an attack. Marcos Flores lost the ball in the center of the park which resulted in a 3-on-3 break for Ottawa which saw midfielder Paulo Jr. hit his shot high over the bar. As time ticked on Armada kept creating chances but none could kill off the side. Then, the knockout blow hit Jacksonville and the three points were doomed to be left on the table.
Deep into the match Armada fell down into a 2-0 hole after another Ottawa Fury goal. Mason Trafford passed wide left to substitute Brandon Poltronieri who sent in a vicious ball to a fellow substitute Tom Heinemann and his high header fell into the back of the net right over Gallardo. Once again, Lucas Trejo was caught not marking his man. Two Ottawa players were left to be marked by the fullback Joseph Toby and of course he was not going to get a higher jump than the big center forward, Heinemann who took advantage of the Armada woes. The very uneventful match in the eyes of Jacksonville ended 2-0 and the boys in blue were sent packing with no points in which a win was a necessity. After the scores around the league were finalized, Ottawa sailed upstream to 6th place while Armada sunk to 8th in the league overall.
Okay, this topic has been stressed constantly and still to this day I am not quite sure why this problem has not been addressed. To begin the Spring Season, Armada defeated Edmonton 3-1 using the 4-3-3 formation and it seemed like all was well until we realized that Edmonton is a horrible team concerning the defensive side of the ball. At Ft. Lauderdale the next week it was noticed that the four in the back-formation was not for Jacksonville as they looked prone to much disaster in the back and were overrun by a strong midfield from the Strikers. After this match, Armada reverted to a 3-4-3 formation in which they dominated Tampa but unluckily came away with a loss. The two weeks after against San Antonio and Indy Eleven, Jacksonville continued to dominate and won both games. Then Keita went down with his injury and for some strange reason the manager decided not to straight swap Akeil Barrett for the striker and it hurt Armada immensely. Flores has been pushed to play the striker position, leading Guillermo Hoyos to change has lineup back to the 4-3-3, a lineup that hasn’t seen a victory at all in seven matches in the regular season(Eight including Boca Juniors). Armada is built to play three at the back, four in the midfield, and three up front and as long as the boys in blue are placed in a 4-3-3, expect a failure of results. Three midfielders is too little for a league like NASL in which a good amount of teams run four in the midfield. The more congestion in the middle of the field leads to a better attacking strategy by Jacksonville and leaves less of a burden on the defense as the diamond in the center of the park is difficult to break down.
Another point that has been stressed week after week. Marcos Flores has got to play in the central attacking midfield position, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. The Argentine showstopper has shown that he is the only man fit for the job in the center and it has been viewed that no other player on the roster can present such a threat like Flores can in that place. It has been awkward with injuries but Armada would have been better off with Barrett playing at striker and Flores sitting behind him. Heck, even throw Tommy Krizanovic or Tyler Williams up front and Jacksonville would have been better off. As long as Flores continues to be played at the striker role, Jacksonville will suffer in attack and we need goals due to a lack as of late. For goodness sake, we need results and are not getting any with the player slotted in at striker.
Sadly, Pascal Millien was not available for the clash with Ottawa and won’t be available likely until New York Cosmos come to town. The Armada’s leading goalscorer is on international duty with Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and his presence is very missed. Since his departure, that has prompted to move our striker, Alhassane Keita, to the right-wing position and Flores has been pushed up. This is a move that obviously is not agreed with. A long few weeks is ahead of us without the Haitian international and don’t expect Guillermo Hoyos to make any move while he is gone, as the manager has not shown any motive to make changes to his lineup.
Well. What can I say, Lucas Trejo sucks and this Armada defense has been trash as of late. During the Ottawa match, Trejo ball watched on both goals which allowed for Fury to win 2-0. Over the course of year, Trejo has proved to be the weakest link on the team and it is time that he sees the bench as it does not look to be getting any better any time soon. This year, the Fleet has given up 20 goals in 11 games, a number that is two goals shy of being the worst defensive record in the league, only behind Edmonton. Numbers back track to what system we are playing. There in the midfield and four at the back is too much of a burden for a back line that is only average. That is why more players in the midfield would be a better fit. More pressure in front of the back line leads to less counters and breakaway opportunities for opposition, something that has plagued the team this year. It has been talked about, bringing in another defensive player on a transfer but will it actually happen? Tommy Redding from Orlando City would be a fantastic fit into a struggling defense.
Keep the Faith:
Jacksonville Armada Football Club have a rough few weeks ahead of them. Next, they travel to Atlanta to take on the Silverbacks, another defensive minded team in the league who is also rock bottom of the table. Atlanta is the beginning of a seven-day period in which Armada play three games including an away trip to Minnesota next Wednesday, and a huge match against the Spring Season champions, New York Cosmos, in two weeks at home. Keep the faith. Jacksonville are in trying times and will be without much depth as Akeil Barrett is still nursing a hamstring injury and Millien is on international duty. Continue backing this team and supporting the boys in blue as these next two weeks will be a test of character and heart.