By: Logan Alexander
Eleventh. Rock Bottom. We all know what events had occurred throughout the inaugural season for Jacksonville Armada Football Club. A leaky defense. Goal scoring droughts. Eight wins at the fortress known as Community First Park. Zero victories away from home. If you didn’t already know, zero is not a typo, but a number backed with dreadfulness and anguish as the boys in blue failed to achieve victory on the road in sixteen attempts(one being an emphatic defeat to USL side Richmond Kickers, 3-0, in the U.S. Open Cup). Lastly, handing the managerial reigns to a man, Guillermo Hoyos, who has taken charge of ten clubs in the last nine years… what a disaster. Do not be fooled, there was a bit of good that came from the 2015 season. Attendance records, defeating the big boys in the league, New York Cosmos, and of course scoring the fastest goal in NASL history displaying the attractive attacking style that was promised at the beginning of the year. Though, how “good” are these feats? The bad outrightly shines over the good of last year, but Armada fans can develop a sense of faith and hope as they look towards the 2016 campaign. Duval’s dearest has endured a total revamp this offseason including personnel changes and many roster renderings in hopes of making strides towards the top of the league. Now, we await the first kick of the new year. The only feeling is that of.. Butterflies.
Teams around the NASL began making moves quickly at the end of the year, and yet JAFC remained stagnant, other than the five atrocious Argentines who jumped ship after Hoyos’ sacking and players who could not crack the starting eleven.(Does anyone know we signed a player by the name of Ethan Sonis from Freiburg on loan?). Of course, with interim head coach Eric Dade not being the one to lead the boys, patience was key to the supporters. Though, acknowledging transfers like Kalif Alhassan to Tampa, Stefano Pinho to Minnesota, and Kleberson to Indy Eleven, a rage was released from within. WHO would be the manager for the Armada and WHEN would there be news of signings?! Then, social media exploded…
…Tony…Meola. The United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper with one hundred caps for country and over three hundred appearances playing for club teams like KC Wizards, MetroStars, and New York Red Bulls. Although, this is a man with no managerial experience, but plenty of connections within the American game. After his appointment, U.S. U-17 coach, Jim Rooney, was declared as top assistant to Meola on November 25, along with Mark Lowry being added to the technical staff on December 30. At first mention of Meola’s appointment, anxiousness conveyed my emotions due to the simple fact that the gaffer has no experience , but then he started building a totally different side with quality talent.
Richie Ryan signed for Jacksonville Armada FC on December 15 from Ottawa Fury FC, and what a signing it was. This box to box midfielder was named into the 2015 NASL Best XI and achieved in being player of the week twice last year. The Irish midfielder hoists experience at club level in Europe, most notably with Sligo Rovers in Ireland where he made 111 appearances and scored five goals in 3 years.
Bryan Burke is another marquee signing for the Fleet who was picked up from Louisville City FC. The fullback has worked his way up to U.S. soccer ranks, starting with Kitsap Pumas in the USL Premier Development League in 2011, where he was named the league’s most valuable player. After his time in Washington, Burke made his way to the USL for sides Orange County Blues, Orlando City, and then Louisville, even being eyed by MLS clubs Sporting KC and San Jose Earthquakes. During his year playing in the “Derby City”, Burke led the league with ten assists and became the USL defender of the year.
Defender Beto Navarro has been picked up from the defunct Atlanta Silverbacks, and another defender, Tyler Ruthven, signed from Arizona United SC, though he spent time with New York Red Bulls in MLS. Ruthven featured in Europe for Finnish side KuPS where he played for one year.
To finish up the list of new arrivals to Jacksonville, Florida is winger Alex Dixon who led Rochester Rhinos to a USL title last season in which he featured fifteen times for the league champions. Striker, Danny Barrow, has joined the Armada from England where he was apart of the West Bromwich Albion youth academy. Lastly are midfielders Junior Sandoval and Pekka Lagerblom. Pekka has made a decent presence in the German Bundesliga, playing for Werder Bremen, 1. FC Nuremberg and 1. FC Köln. Sandoval is a versatile attacking midfielder who has had stints in America with Atlanta Silverbacks and has journeyed to North Florida from Colombian Primera A side, Jaguares de Córdoba.
Meola continued with the surprises. Philadelphia Union was already scheduled as the first preseason opponent but then the gaffer stated his intentions for the year when New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC agreed to friendlies also in February.
A lot of information just hit you smack in the face but let me sum up all of this news in one word. Hope. The mistake that was made last year was that players were being signed from all over the world, yet none of them were accustomed to the American way to play the game and that inexperience cost the Armada. There is a certain way that you have to play in this country. Teams are monstrous and stout, and signing a trio of players with flair led to absolutely zero success in the past year. The defense was too small and having the possession in your sides favor NEVER promised a victory. Luckily, we have a manager now with a sense of mind. Of the eight new signings, six of them have experience playing in the States, three of which have found massive amounts of success in the past year including Ryan, Dixon, and Burke. Also, somehow, Lucas Scaglia is still an Armada player after all of his Argentine brothers have ditched the last placed club. This team looks very strong leading into the 2016 year. Finally, Jacksonville is starting to scout the USL talent rather than going abroad to seek new players, which was a big piece missing from the team last year. Remember that Matt Bahner was signed from USL side Wilmington Hammerheads, and he was arguably the best player for the Fleet last year. Mechack Jerome and Bahner being retained as Armada players for this season makes the defense a view of a rock, especially with the additions of Burke and Navarro. Upping the skill level in the midfield and keeping every main attacker from last year, Jacksonville may be a solid side at the start of the preseason and the beginning of the regular season.
All in all, 2016 is going to be a heck of a year. With the slump of the inaugural season behind us, we can definitely look forward to a much better second year as a club and in the league. Quickly, hopelessness from a poor 2015 season has brightened and turned to hopefulness due to the new staff and players that have been brought in to the club.
“Duval we love and were gonna let it show, rep till we die, forever the 904″.