By: Logan Alexander
“We need a win.” “Armada need to achieve a good result, as soon as possible.” The concept is not difficult to understand, but the task at hand to secure three points is a strenuous one for this Jacksonville Armada team. As stated in the preview of this match with Atlanta, a win for the boys in blue was a necessity since they experienced failure in Ottawa a week prior to open up the fall season in the NASL. Once again, the ship was sunken as Atlanta Silverbacks defeated Jacksonville Armada 1-0 to leave the northeast Florida club rock bottom of the fall season table through two games. Times do not get easier for Jacksonville as they face Minnesota United on Wednesday, followed up by a date with the spring champions, New York Cosmos, on Saturday. In case anyone was interested on feeling less optimistic about this year, after New York we then face Minnesota again, leading up to an away trip to Tampa and finally a meeting with third place overall, Carolina Railhawks. Now, how important was a win in Atlanta on Saturday evening? You decide, but the road gets much more complicated in the coming weeks.
Both Atlanta Silverbacks and Jacksonville Armada entered into the match desperate for wins in the North American Soccer League. Atlanta last won back on April 18th against Carolina, while Jacksonville has not tasted victory since May 9th when they defeated Indy Eleven at home in what was a 1-0 scoreline. Winning was the ultimate goal on Saturday between two teams at the bottom of the table who have endured much hardship as of late in the season.
Not much action developed in the first fifteen minutes of the match as the offenses of both sides failed to click while in the final third. The opening minutes were ones to be conveyed as gritty due to many challenges across the pitch and key midfield battles between the two. Finally the first real opportunity was created in the 17th minute on good interchange play by Armada. Shawn Nicklaw sent a ball forward to Jaime Castrillon who worked well with Flores to spring a ball up to Keita, but the striker sent a weak, hopping shot to C.J. Cochran, the Silverbacks keeper. From then on, many opportunities were strung together in the game. Thirty seconds later, midfielder Kyle Porter made a darting run back the other way attacking at Jacksonville and sent in a vicious ball but no one could get on the end of it. Soon after, Matt Bahner of Armada crossed into the Atlanta box which deflected off of an opposition player, leading to Bochy Hoyos smashing his attempt from 25 yards out just over the bar.
Back on the other end of the field Atlanta received a corner in the 23rd minute. English center-back Ryan Mensing headed the ensuing corner just wide of Jacksonville’s net in what was the best chance so far. At this moment Atlanta found themselves in complete control of the tie. Atlanta’s Jaime Chavez raced onto the end of a ball threaded through the Armada back line and shot just over the bar in the 28th minute. In the 31st minute, Mensing was on the receiving end of another ball and shot over the bar. Jacksonville was struggling in attack and could not create much because of the immense pressure being displayed by Atlanta.
There was a shout for a penalty in the 39th minute for Jacksonville. Forward, Alhassane Keita, forced his way around Mensing in the box and was bundled over in what should have been an easy call for the referee, but to the amazement of even the Silverbacks commentators, the official did not blow for a spot kick. The first half ended 0-0 and was an even display between the two teams at the bottom.
Jacksonville Armada quickly scored in under a minute of play to start out the half. But wait… Referee Kevin Terry Jr. blew his whistle for a offside call of goalscorer Jemal Johnson. There is no question that Keita was in a offside position after a ball from the defense was lifted over the Atlanta back line, but Jemal Johnson was on the other side of midfield during the play. The Armada forward paced down the field to collect the ball and eventually scored, but strangely was called offside. After being disallowed the opening goal, Silverbacks went on to find a breakthrough on a wicked goal by the Silverbacks midfielder Michael Reed in the 60th minute. Jaime Chavez received a cross on the right side of the Armada penalty box, then played Michael Reed who sat unmarked in the area, who blasted a shot into the upper corner of the net to send Atlanta fans into pandemonium and lead his team to a 1-0 scoreline.
Atlanta heavily defended after taking the lead which enabled the Armada attack to spark after lacking much in the match. Substitute for Armada, Joseph Toby, finessed a ball to the back post of Cochran’s net in which the keeper had to make a fingertip save to keep it from hitting the back of the net. 70 minutes passed and Jaime Castrillon shanked his shot wide from what was great work by forward Tommy Krizanovic on a counter attack deep into the Atlanta defense. Silverbacks best chance to increase their lead came in the 76th minute on a 2-on-1 counter attack. Armada defender Fabricio Ortiz took a shoving off of the ball in the center of the park to ignite a spring in attack for Atlanta, but thankfully counterpart Lucas Trejo cut out any danger by blocking the through ball that was played. Tempers began to flare in the 78th minute, also the same time that Jacksonville were denied another goal.
Keita drilled in a cross which was saved by goalkeeper C.J. Cochran, that then hit the arm of a Silverbacks defender and went in off of the inside shoulder of Tommy Krizanovic. The goal was called back for a handball on the Armada player, and the team went absolutely berserk on field at the official. Marcos Flores was gifted a yellow card for verbal actions against the man in charge of the game and it could not be believed what had happened. James Johnson shot from fifteen yards out in the 82nd minute but his attempt was saved by Cochran. Yellow cards began flying, streamers were being thrown onto the pitch, and play was chippy for the remainder of the contest. The icing was fixed onto the cake when Armada central defensive midfielder, Lucas Scaglia, was sent off for an inane challenge to earn his second yellow card on the night. After four minutes of chaos in stoppage time the referee blew his whistle and Atlanta defeated Jacksonville 1-0 undeservedly. Post match stats included 53 percent possession favoring Jacksonville who also led in shots 11-7.
Jacksonville Armada were left stunned in Atlanta and now sit just one point from the bottom of the combined table with twelve points in twelve matches. The boys in blue also are dead last in the fall season as the only team to not collect a point in the two matches played. Atlanta gained ground on Jacksonville in the combined table obtaining eleven points in twelve games played. In the fall season league standings, Atlanta sit mid table in 5th with three points.
Now it is a common occurrence that if a team one supports loses, the main reason for the loss is blamed on the official, just because there is no other excuse. This was not the case on Saturday night. A fourth official by trade was assigned to officiate the game between Atlanta Silverbacks and Jacksonville Armada, one that promised to be a scrum to secure maximum points. All night the official was inconsistent in his calls, letting go rash challenges but also giving free kicks for dives and the weakest tackles of the night. Two penalties were in question for Jacksonville and at least one should have been called. Keita was shoved to the ground in the box by an Atlanta defender who clearly had no intention of playing the ball, but the shout was not given any notice. Also late in the second half Keita was kicked in the mouth after controlling the ball in front of him. This could have been either or and it doesn’t really matter much because it was questionable but the high kick by the Atlanta player could have been avoided and disrupted our player from making any advancement while in control of the ball.
How about the two disallowed goals? A ball from the Armada defense was lumped forward and over the Atlanta back line in the direction of Alhassane Keita which was the intended target. From beyond midfield Jemal Johnson darted forward who then featured on the receiving end of the ball and continued his run forward to score. Alhassane Keita had no part in the play other than being the target but even then he was too far from where the ball landed to be considered involved with the play. Crazily enough, the linesman and official agreed to call Jemal Johnson offside, which was wrong and from where we were sitting, was right in front of the play.
Secondly was the “handball” by Jacksonville Armada. Watch the replay of the incident if you still believe it was the correct call. Keita sent in a cross which was saved by C.J. Cochran but deflected off of the keeper onto the arm of a Silverbacks player. The ball then hit off of the arm of the Atlanta player and found its way to Tommy Krizanovic who directed the ball in off of his left inside shoulder, which was called handball. If the goal did not stand, Armada should have at least been awarded a penalty for an Atlanta handball, but the official indicated that it was a handball called on Krizanovic of Jacksonville. The line judge had a great angle of the play, as did the official, and it should have been an easy call for either a goal or handball on Atlanta. These missed calls from the official cost Jacksonville Armada important points that they needed to make up ground in the league.
Once again Jacksonville rolled out the 4-3-3 lineup and Marcos Flores was being deployed at the striker position for yet another match. Quickly into the game, Flores dropped back and Keita slotted over into the striker role, which allowed the Argentine and Guinean to play in their primary roles, but left for there to be no impact on the right side of the field other than when Castrillon drifted over, or Nicklaw rushed forward. Surprisingly enough, the attack looked promising but Keita lacked in holding many of his runs which resulted in very many annoying offside decisions. On the flip side, a couple of times our midfielders held on to the ball for too long and by the time it was released, Keita already ran into a offside position. The midfield looked solid and played well throughout the match. Defensively, Matt Bahner and Fabricio Ortiz made clutch tackles and blocks to keep their side in the match. Lucas Trejo had one block late in the second half to disallow Atlanta another goal, but other than that the player looked below average once again. Armada pressured well but failed mentally in key situations, with the lead example being the lone goal where the Atlanta player was left wide open on top of the box. In recent encounters, Armada have not played great in the 4-3-3 formation but on Saturday night it wasn’t bad at all! With a lack of personnel, there was really nothing else could have worked out better for Jacksonville and their performance was class.
Tommy Krizanovic played his best football in an Armada shirt, while Joseph Toby continued his string of solid performances coming off of the bench. Krizanovic scored a goal that was wrongfully disallowed and continued to be a threat when running at the Atlanta defense. Toby added another good performance at the left back position showing pace and even creating a few decent opportunities in attempt to level his side.
Did Jacksonville Need Three Points in Atlanta:
Yes. No question about it. Beginning the fall season against two teams that are highly beatable, it should not have been a difficult task for the boys in blue but somehow they managed to screw up and get screwed over in the two matches. Now, sitting at zero points in the fall and 10th in the combined standings, a tough road trip in Minnesota is coming up on Wednesday along with a huge match at home against the New York Cosmos, winners of the Spring Season. Jacksonville needed a decent amount of points before their five game stretch in which they play a top five team in the league every match. Without Pascal Millien in the lineup, this team is not good enough to beat Minnesota United away or even a New York Cosmos team at home. Armada need points now, more than ever and if they fail to secure any points to finish out the week, it may be the end of playoff hopes for the expansion side.