San Antonio-Jacksonville: One Huge Matchup

By: Logan Alexander

Trials and tribulations over the course of the Fall Season have heavily affected the San Antonio Scorpions who have not earned three points in an NASL league match since week two in the Fall where they defeated Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 at home. Through seven matches, the Scorpions have collected a measly five points which anchors them rock bottom of the Fall standings and overall table in the calendar year. When discussing the struggles of a club, the first thought that crosses the mind is a lack of an attacking presence on the pitch that bangs in goals to successfully lead a team to victory. Surprisingly enough, the situation is backwards for San Antonio. Fourteen goals have been scored in seven matches for the Scorpions and they are also host to the leading goalscorer in the league, Omar Cummings. The Jamaican international has notched ten goals and two assists throughout the year and even scored an overhead kick in the first meeting between Jacksonville and San Antonio.

On the opposite end of the field is where conflicts begin to arise for the Scorpions. Is there such a thing as a solid team without a steady back line? Absolutely not. As cliché as it sounds, the quote remains true in the beautiful game and in other sports around the world. Defense wins championships. Back tracking to only a year ago, San Antonio were crowned Soccer Bowl champions and a key element to their success was the play on their defensive front. In 27 games played, the Scorpions allowed just 24 goals which is a 0.88 goals allowed average per game. San Antonio also held the best defensive record in the NASL, including twelve shutouts on the year. Let’s not forget about the 43 goals scored by the side during their campaign which was second most in the league and just as impressive. Fast forward to 2015 and SA are a completely different side this time around. Defensively the team has already given up 33 goals and there are still thirteen games left to be played this year. Unfortunately the attack is getting no help though they are scoring plenty of goals, which is always a frustrating sight to see. Also in only seven matches in the Fall Season, they have given up 18 goals, accounting for a 2.57 goals allowed average per game.

Currently the club is in a rough position as the leaders of the pack in the NASL are running away from the teams at the bottom of the table, including San Antonio. Saturday night is huge for the Scorpions if they had any playoff implications this season after their championship last year. Coming to town is a high-flying Jacksonville Armada team who are eying a third straight victory in league play.

A new day is dawning for Jacksonville Armada as they look to continue their win streak to three as they defeated Carolina 3-0 last Wednesday, then went on to dominate Atlanta Silverbacks 1-0 which ended their home stretch of two matches in four days at Community First Park. There is a new challenge for Jacksonville on Saturday when they head to Toyota Field to match up with San Antonio. Armada are still vying for their first away win in club history, holding a dismal record of 0-8-3 on their travels this year in league competition. Though away form has been ridiculously lack luster this year, there is a sense of a new breed of confidence coinciding within the Fleet. Just three weeks ago, Jacksonville sat bottom of the table and looked troublesome in every match that was played. A victory against New York Cosmos sparked a fire in the team, a feeling that they can go out and compete with any team in the league, no matter where they are placed at. After a rough match where points were lost against Minnesota and the next week the team failed to defeat rivals Tampa Bay, the lads felt urgent in the locker room to start securing points. Two wins on the bounce surely has helped increase morale and momentum, and a win against last placed San Antonio could knock them right up the table near playoff position, a spot that did not seem possible just weeks ago.

Injuries to the back line for Armada have led to midfielder, Nico Perea, slotting into the center back role for Armada. Not going to lie, when Perea was listed in the starting eleven to debut against Carolina in the new role, I myself was very puzzled and worried but the kid has been a tank in the heart of the defense. The connection between Perea and Fabricio Ortiz has been one that has been unstoppable over the past week. With a run of solid performances and Matt Bahner still questionable to return, we could easily see Nico make another start at the CB position. Joseph Toby has also played astoundingly over the past few games, making darting runs up and down the flanks and bringing another addition of pace to an already energetic Armada squad.

It’s shocking to say, but Jacksonville are clicking offensively without Marcos Flores wreaking havoc in the center of the park. Arguably, Akeil Barrett has played better over the last month than Flores has since his acquisition from Newcastle Jets. Like Toby, Akeil Barrett brings another burst of energy and pace up front, in which he can also lead a high amount of pressure on the opposition, something that Flores was unable to accomplish. Barrett’s addition to the roster has led to an increase in goals and his presence has enabled Pascal Millien, Alhassane Keita, and Jemal Johnson to play remarkably better football and attack with more of a menace. All match long Millien runs at the defense, Keita has been very clinical in front of the net, and JJ is playing his best football in years, for Armada.  If I were San Antonio, I would be very worried for this Armada attack, especially since the San Antonio defense has struggled mightily over the course of the season.

PREDICTION:

San Antonio 1-2 Jacksonville.

Armada will receive their first three points away from home and will set themselves up to race for a playoff spot in the NASL. San Antonio will have a point to prove after sucking in the past month, but the Armada attack will overcome adversity away from home and slot two goals into the back of the net. Akeil Barrett and Pascal Millien will score to lead Armada to nine points in three matches. Also, the midfield has been superb over the past few weeks for Jacksonville. Jaime Castrillon has come up clutch with two key goals in the last two games, and Lucas Scaglia has been and will always be a nuisance in the center of midfield against opposition. Like the previous matches, Armada will be a tough team to break down and although San Antonio attack well, I feel they will not match the pace of Jacksonville and will find difficulty against the defense of Jacksonville.

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