By: Logan Alexander
Helplessness has definitely got to be one of the worst feelings that a person can experience. An occurring situation presents itself to the viewer, yet there is nothing that you can do to positively impact what is happening. Sitting at the pub in downtown Jacksonville, I experienced this sickening feeling. My hometown club was dismantled 4-0 at the hands of Minnesota United in what was known to be a difficult away fixture, but never thought to be as excruciatingly painful to watch as it was on Wednesday night. You can sing at the top of your lungs at a watch party, but the players are deaf and cannot hear each rhyme. As a supporter of the club that has stolen my heart I was helpless when watching the love of my life be torn apart, and there was no way to will them on to success. Every goal that was allowed was a saddening string of emotional downturn. It is the worst feeling.
Prior to the showdown on Wednesday night, the Loons and the Fleet both found themselves at the bottom of the table, not clicking on all cylinders in the opening two matches of the North American Soccer League fall season. Minnesota started their campaign with a humiliating 3-1 defeat at the hands of Carolina Railhawks, which then led to a 1-1 draw at home to Ottawa Fury. Jacksonville, on the other side of the spectrum, lost their inaugural fall season match against Ottawa 2-0 in Canada. The next week they were defeated 1-0 by the bottom team in the combined table, Atlanta Silverbacks. Three points were vital for each team to boost their hopes of climbing up the table towards the top.
Jacksonville Armada displayed a promising start earning an early corner and constantly pressuring the Minnesota back line while they held onto the ball. After a fast start by the boys in blue in the first five minutes, the game started settling down and United enjoyed having their way with Armada. The Loons nearly knocked in the first goal of the match in the 5th minute due to a brilliant ball put into the box by Christian Ramirez to midfielder Ibson, but a clutch slide tackle came in to deny the Brazilian any opportunity on net. Continuing their fine form of attacking minded football, United pulled another chance out of the hat. Kalif Alhassan carried the ball up field and a lucky deflection off of Armada midfielder Jaime Castrillon resulted in Ibson finding a great amount of space on the left flank but he could not find a teammate in the area. The deadlock was broken in the 13th minute on a rocket of a shot by Minnesota United midfielder, Juliano Vicentini.
Thirteen minutes is all it took for the home side to take the lead, one which Armada would not find their way back from. Jacksonville center back Fabricio Ortiz was tackled right off of the ball in the midfield by Vicentini who then carried the ball forward at three Armada players who did not step up to attempt a tackle. Noticing that the Armada goalkeeper David Sierra was eight yards off his line, the Brazilian had a go from 25 yards out and expertly smashed the ball into the goal to give his side a 1-0 lead.
After falling behind in the match Jacksonville were revived and held a firm grip on the play of the match. Unfortunately under their control the team could not piece together any deadly attacks on Sammy Ndjock’s net, which has been a problem for Jacksonville Armada in the attacking third of the field all year-long. Much possession is gifted to the team yet they can not answer with any convincing chances on frame. The situation became even more complicated when Marcos Flores had to be substituted after 35 minutes due to what appeared to be a hamstring problem, the same injury that has plagued Armada twice in the year.
Just a minute later Ibson received the ball just outside the Armada eighteen yard box and on another lucky bounce, found Christian Ramirez who forced Sierra into a top class save during the 1-on-1 encounter. The ensuing corner led to defender Tiago Calvano heading just over the bar as Minnesota displayed a dominant performance on the attack. When it seemed as if the match against Minnesota couldn’t get any worse, a straight red card was issued to Armada striker Alhassane Keita. The Guinean lifted his foot high trying to control a ball in the box and nailed Minnesota’s goalkeeper, Sammy Ndjock, right in the face with his studs up, a play that is always deserving of the worst color in the game: Red.
Floodgates were opened after Jacksonville were reduced to ten men and Minnesota United were enjoying a field day with the away team’s defense. Defender Kevin Venegas muscled off Jacksonville substitute Joseph Toby to unleash a shot that was saved by Sierra but the danger was not put on hold yet. A failed clearance by Fabricio Ortiz allowed United to continue a threatening attack and Justin Davis’ attempt was parried just over the bar. The Loons added their second goal of the night in the 50th minute on silky smooth play by forward Christian Ramirez.
The 2014 Golden Boot winner, Ramirez, cleverly flicked the ball over his shoulder to the onrushing Daniel Mendes who made no mistake on his half volley and rifled the ball past Sierra, who was out of position again on the goal. At the other end of the field Armada sailed on the attack and nearly found themselves a goal back by Tommy Krizanovic but Minnesota’s keeper was keen to the task and made a great acrobatic save to deny the hometown hero. Jacksonville looked promising for a few minutes and created another fantastic opportunity. Krizanovic caught on to a loose ball in the midfield and then played forward to Jemal Johnson, but the winger barely missed the right post. Jacksonville Armada were buried in the 60th minute.
Christian Ramirez was enjoying a night to remember and made it even sweeter when he scored from just over 20 yards out past a once again out of position Armada goalkeeper. Ramirez received the ball and was left onside by defender Joseph Toby, then recognized how far Sierra ventured off of his line and finessed a shot, which sunk into the bottom right corner to take his side to a commanding 3-0 lead. Jacksonville did not look horrible attacking but failed to finish off any of their better chances. Jemal Johnson powered a shot in the 69th minute but Sammy Ndjock comfortably saved, as he did all night. The nails were pounded into the coffin fifteen minutes from full-time in Blaine, MN.
Minnesota substitute J.C. Banks patrolled up the right side of the pitch to send in a terrific ball on the ground to the center of the field, just outside the box. A beauty of a “dummy” by Christian Ramirez led to Ibson clinically finishing for Minnesota’s fourth goal on the night, one that sent me into a feeling of sheer disappointment. Time seemed to be moving slower the farther into the match it got and Minnesota nearly collected their fifth goal on the night. Banks once again made a great run with the ball on the right side and sent in another demanding cross into the box. Another ridiculous dummy play by Ramirez led to substitute Yago to have a great opportunity on goal to score his first for the club, but Sierra made a huge save diving to his right to deny the player. Four minutes of stoppage time concluded and Minnesota United completed their rout of Jacksonville Armada 4-0 in front of a fan base up north desperate for a win.
Minnesota skyrocketed to second place after securing three points on Wednesday night to plant themselves on four points in the fall season, and 18 combined. Jacksonville still remain rock bottom of the fall season standings with no points in three games, not even a goal and seven allowed in the fall season so far. With an extra matched played in comparison to Atlanta we could see the boys in blue fall to last place in the combined standings soon if results were to continue to be as poor as they are now. Armada will entertain New York Cosmos at home on Saturday evening while Minnesota United meet old friend Miguel Ibarra and company on the same day as they host an international friendly with Club Leon of the Mexican Liga MX. United will enjoy a week off from NASL league play.
A Millien Problems:
Pascal Millien is not the only player that will be missing from the Armada lineup on Saturday when Jacksonville hosts the spring season champions, New York Cosmos. If anyone is not aware, Millien has advanced with Haiti to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup which sees him out for another important game. Alhassane Keita has received a three match ban because of his straight red card on Wednesday against Minnesota, and we have already noticed that Keita’s shoes are difficult to fill while his presence is not with us on the field. Marcos Flores went down late in the first half and the situation looks to be a hamstring injury, one that may take a few weeks to heal up, but information is still being noted on what is going on regarding Flores’ condition. If Armada weren’t in a hole already, Matt Bahner is questionable for the match against NYC as he picked up a knock prior to the MUFC and his status is being examined. Armada have struggled without Keita for quite some time in the spring season but missing the star striker because of a red card, Marcos Flores due to injury, and Millien at Gold Cup, Jacksonville’s offense looks doomed ahead of a huge matchup with New York.
Poor Goalkeeping Efforts:
David Sierra has got to be coached to play so far off of his line. In the pre-season Armada fans caught glimpses of excellence, viewing excellent goalkeeping by the Spaniard in the matches he featured in. In the two matches he has started, both against Minnesota coincidentally, the goalkeeper has given up seven goals, plenty of which could have been prevented had he played further back towards his line. Minnesota players easily lifted balls over the keeper to score on Wednesday night and had the Armada player not strayed away from his line, three goals could have been avoided and this article wouldn’t be as negative and upsetting. Unfortunately 4-0 was the scoreline and a portion of the blame is raised over the head of Sierra. By the way, where was Miguel Gallardo? Surely there is a clause in his contract where he avoids taking the field against Minnesota, and if that is the case I pray we get that sorted out properly.
Seven goals in three games is absolute crap. This defense is not strong enough against some of these NASL teams and Minnesota United is one of them. Often too many times the lads are afraid to put in a hard-nosed tackle, one that could completely change the outcome of a dangerous play. Jacksonville have been forced to pay on lackadaisical defending and the game plan on the back line needs to change quickly. Also noticed is that our players are not urgent enough to take a step forward to pressure an opponent, which leads to much more time on the ball and eventually opportunities that hit the back of the net. Give less time and attack the ball please! Jacksonville Armada were not able to handle an above average offense like Minnesota, but just wait until New York Cosmos come to town, because they have just as dominant as an attacking force. Problems need to be sorted out on the defensive side of the ball and firstly on the list is that Lucas Trejo needs to take time on the bench in place of Hrustic. Armada’s best defender in Matt Bahner did not feature for the side on Wednesday but that is no excuse to give up four goals. If I were Guillermo Hoyos, the transfer market would be a beautiful remedy to the current poor defense.
This key trait in a manager is one that Guillermo Hoyos does not have. Though stats do not show to be as true, Minnesota United feature one of the most lethal attacks in the league and once the lineups were released for this match, we knew the night ahead may be a long and windy one. For one, Nico Perea was not as convincing in the midfield as we would have liked to see and it is felt that Lucas Rodriguez would have made a bigger impact. Flores made the start at striker, which has been a main storyline that has been harped on heavily over the course of the year. Bochy Hoyos was featured at the CDM position when he is a more attacking minded central midfielder. Jaime Castrillon made the start at right central midfield, yet he is a better defender than Bochy Hoyos is. Had the two swapped places, the midfield could have been sorted correctly. Finally, the gaffer depended on three midfielders to contain the five that Minnesota were deploying which is madness. An attacking team like Minnesota should have been contained in the midfield more thoroughly on the night, but the lack of bodies in the midfield led to the Loons taking full advantage on their chances and bossing the area of the pitch. Heck, even a 4-4-2 diamond would have worked better than a 4-3-3 on the night.
When Will We Cheer:
I haven’t cheered on a Jacksonville Armada goal since the two they scored on June 27th against Boca Juniors, but that was a friendly so does it even count? If it does not, Armada haven’t scored since June 13th when they made a comeback to tie New York Cosmos 3-3 at James M. Stuart Stadium. Jacksonville have not won a game since May 9th when they defeated Indy Eleven 1-0 at home. Since that date, Armada are winless in ten games including one friendly and a U.S Open Cup match against USL side Richmond Kickers where they were hammered 3-0. Nothing would make me happier than to at least see a goal, let alone a win by the boys and blue. Who knows how long it will take for the latter as they face off with New York on Saturday and then claim host to Minnesota United in two weeks. Forever this team will be supported fully by me and many others, but it is time that Armada provide a victory for us all to celebrate so we can correctly begin the fall season campaign, and what better way to do it than against the champions in the league, NYC.