By: Logan Alexander
Week three of the North American Soccer League is behind us, but as we look forward to the next wave of action, we can not forget to recognize the two Jacksonville Armada players that featured in the league’s “Team of the Week” selection.
The winning goalscorer, Zach Steinberger, delivered three points for Jacksonville in their first away test of the year at Edmonton. In what was a mountainous match after their week one victory, Jacksonville looked to carry on the momentum in an effort to start a season 2-0-0 for the first time in history. In the 8th minute, Armada earned a corner in which J.C. Banks trotted over to take. When organizing the set piece, Steinberger caught the Edmonton defense sleeping and un-alert, making a darting run forward towards Banks. After receiving the ball, Zach maintained time to completely turn in the box and fire a shot on goal, which was blundered by the Edmonton goalkeeper in which it crossed into the net.
Attacking FC Edmonton was not the game plan after the opening goal as Jacksonville committed to playing heavily on the defensive side of the ball. Steinberger did his job as a forward, but earns his team of the week honor due to his defensive effort as well. With Drew Beckie caught on a yellow card midway through the match, the midfielder played a crucial role in covering in defense on the right side with his counterpart at fullback. The effort of Zach Steinberger among the back line presented numbers for Jacksonville to defend with, which preserved a 1-0 victory for the Northeast Florida club. Don’t forget, J.C. Banks was also heavily involved on the opposite side of the field. As it may have been uncomfortable for the two forwards/midfielders dropping back so deep, we remained stiff and exited Clarke Stadium alive.
What a performance. The beginning of the day was tough. Sure, before the Armada goal everything seemed fine and dandy, as the players were playing with confidence and swagger in Canada, but after the opening goal. Wow. The defensive line was exposed, Jérome misplaced four to five passes that were seen as near massive errors, and the team could not transition at all out of the back. There were moments around the 20th minute mark until the 35th where the defense reminded me of one we saw last year, presenting opportunities and chances to the opposing team to pounce and score on. Luckily, Edmonton did not take advantage. If you think about it, every major chance Edmonton lost out on, the Armada defense shaped up more and more. By the second half, business was usual.
There was immense pressure as the home team looked to level the tie at 1-1, but we predicted that to happen, especially if Jacksonville scored first, which they did. In the second half as well, the Eddies carved up chances to bring back a goal in the game, though nothing was working for them. Jérôme finds his way into the TOTW in my eyes for this reason: He was never defeated.
No matter how poor the first 45 minutes were, Mechak rebounded and altered his game in the second half of the match. There were mistakes, and this player does need to tighten up in the back, but his numbers were outstanding. Out of nine aerial duels, the Haitian defender won eight headers, most of them clearances. Jérôme had a 100% tackle rate (2/2), made six clearances, and had four interceptions. He led a defense with Aaron Pitchkolan that bent, but was never broken, and survived a flurry of attacks to lead Jacksonville to the top of the table.