By: Logan Alexander
Leading into the fourth week of the North American Soccer League season, nobody in their right mind could have predicted Jacksonville and San Francisco being number one and two in the table. That’s right. Saturday will be a top of the table clash, and this is only leading into match three for both clubs. Stakes are not as colossal as they might be if these two teams met later in the season, though whoever comes out the winner of this high profile match, will gain or retain the place at the summit of the NASL. It’s Jacksonville vs. San Francisco, and this is match of the week.
Jacksonville Armada Football Club, what can be said. Through all of the adversity, through fear of ceasing operations, begging and pleading for a lifeline, the Anchors are currently the leaders of the NASL. The home opener just two weeks ago was that of a pursuit. Start strong, give the fans and themselves confidence and a new hope. Last week? Mark Lowry praised the performance in Edmonton as one of “desire”. Two W’s, both ending 1-0 at the hands of FC Edmonton have propelled Jacksonville to a gritty six points in two played.
San Francisco Deltas have enjoyed early success in their beginning days as a franchise in the United States. The Triangles opened their season against Indy Eleven, in which the match played to a 1-1 draw. After a bye week, San Francisco returned at home where they defeated North Carolina FC, 3-1, in what can be argued as the most entertaining match of the year so far in the league. Coming into the weekend and their trip to Florida, San Francisco are placed 2nd in the table, two points behind Jacksonville.
Last Time Out: San Francisco Deltas
As mentioned just a second ago, San Fran captured all three points last Saturday night in a 3-1 affair when North Carolina FC visited The Golden City. Tiyi Shipalane opened the scoring after a cross was delivered by the right back, Steven Miller, which was punched away by the Deltas goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Romuald Peiser, the Canadian goalkeeper punched the ball straight to an NCFC player. After one shot was blocked off of the line, the football fell to Shipalane who clinically finished his opportunity and sent the side up 1-0 on the road. The first half looked destined to end with NC taking the lead to the break, but the side were dealt a massive blow when Tom Heinemann equalized for Deltas in the third minute of stoppage time.
Midfielder, Cristian Portilla, frantically sent a ball into the box as the half was soon to wrap up. Heinemann, the ex-Tampa Bay and Ottawa striker, caught the the defense sleeping and tapped in a volley to level the score, a goal that was the final touch of the first forty-five minutes.
North Carolina controlled the possession throughout the game, but possession means nothing if chances are not finished off when presented. Late in the match, San Francisco recovered the lead, as Pablo Dyego scored a wonder goal from outside the area in the 82nd minute. To clinch maximum points, Tom Heinemann scored his second of the match in the 90th minute. A beautiful nutmeg through an NCFC defender, and then a picture perfect placed effort on goal handled the tie, leading SFD to their first win in history.
Last Time Out: Jacksonville Armada
You can be proud of the boys for claiming three points on the road, as the Fleet traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, one of the toughest environments to play at in the league. Sure, the result was monumental to the team’s momentum and standing in the league as Armada now sit at the top of the table, but the fashion in which the points were earned.. what a relief. Don’t lie to yourself. You suffered watching over eighty minutes of die hard defense after that goal scored by Zach Steinberger in the 7th minute. Eighty minutes of rapid heartbeat, vicious anxiety, maybe a heart attack or two. The result was earned, not taking anything away from the squad, as they fought for their lives to bring points back to Jacksonville. The ability to wrap up all of the points? We’re pretty lucky to be where we are.
Countless and countless waves of attack, Edmonton uncovering gaping holes in the defense, Armada looked dazed and on the back foot throughout the entire match on Saturday night. How did Edmonton not net even an equalizer? Only God knows. A few key saves by Caleb Patterson-Sewell, clutch blocks by the back line, and missed opportunities by Edmonton themselves. One header smashed the crossbar, and a scuffed shot by Tomi Ameobi with only the entire goal in front of him, somehow allowed Jacksonville to hang on and salvage the maximum amount of points. The key takeaway from last week is the determination implanted within the team by the manager, Mark Lowry. In a post match interview, Lowry acknowledged that “If you stick to your principles, you get the rewards.” The gaffer placed a fierce confidence into the team’s defensive capabilities, and his risk paid off as Jacksonville were bulletproof in the Great White North.
San Francisco Keys To The Match:
For the first time in the club’s history, San Francisco travels away for an NASL Regular Season match. This week, Deltas travel to Hodges Stadium, home of the best team in the league currently. If anything, it is made aware that the team from The Bay are capable of discovering victory at home, but they have never played away from Kezar Stadium, at least not in the regular season. Their visit to Hodges Stadium will not be one of ease either. Hype around Jacksonville is at a peak as fans are displaying an electricity around the club after an impressive past two weeks. The affair on April 15th will be intense, as home fans will look to back Jacksonville on their quest for a third straight win in as many matches. The pressure is on manager Marc Dos Santos to keep his side composed in what will be an energized environment. San Francisco will need to stick to fundamentals and stay mentally strong throughout the 90 minutes.
Involvement in the Attack.
We have no clue what the game plan is for Deltas, whether they are playing for a point or going for all three. What will be crucial is to keep involving Tom Heinemann, Pablo Dyego, and Danny Cruz in the match. One of the most powerful trio of forwards lies within the roster of SF, and the pressure on the pitch is weighed heavily on the midfield of Deltas. Portilla, Kyle Bekker, and co. A consistent deliverance of the ball forward to the front three, and there will be plenty of chances created and to be had. Each player attacking for Deltas has true scoring ability, therefore Jacksonville will have a major fight amongst themselves in the midfield and on the last line of defense unless…
Jacksonville Armada Keys to the Match:
THAT MIDFIELD. Kevan George and Nicklas Maripuu will play the biggest role on Saturday night as their main objective is to shut down any flow of attack that San Francisco will present. Trust me, they have a difficult task set ahead of themselves. North Carolina FC allowed Deltas to take 19 shots in their last match, while eight of which were on target, three being goals. San Francisco is not afraid to press forward for goals, and if the two holding midfielders can continuously disrupt the flow of play between the midfield and forwards, Saturday will be a long night for Deltas. There is firepower on the bench as well for the traveling squad. Jackson and Devon Sandoval, both players who were recently a part of MLS sides not too long ago, bring more options in attack. There are a plethora of players to have an eye kept on.
Another way to disrupt how San Francisco will want to play, is to hold and maintain the possession of the ball throughout the match. Last week, Jacksonville strayed away from their week one habits, conceding just over half of the possession to Edmonton, when the Fleet should have dominated in possession once again. Keeping the ball off of the feet of the SF playmakers for as long as possible will relieve a good amount of pressure that the away team is capable of implying during the match. Jacksonville will find success if they impose their will on the game and show a sense of control over Deltas. This should be easy in fact. San Francisco concede possession but attack quickly. Keep the ball away from harm, play fast.
Use Home Field Advantage… To Your Advantage.
Top of the league. Hyped fans. Saturday night will be crazy. It is crucial for the Jacksonville club to take in the place they are at and continue to find success with a passionate support behind them. This is the type of game where earning three points at home is a necessity. No reason should there be any result but a win for Armada.
Hold a Tight Defense and Stay On Your Toes.
San Francisco scored every one of their goals last week due to the defense of North Carolina not playing tight enough or not being alert of the attacking players. The first goal, Tom Heinemann was lost by his defensive mark. The second, Dyego decided to shoot for the stars and scored an absolute wonder from over twenty yards out, near the corner of the 18-yard box. The last goal, no defender played close to Heinemann, he then nutmegged a flat-footed defender who had no cover behind him, and let’s not take credit from the shot on target, that was stellar. Jacksonville has got to play goal side, tight on the San Francisco team when they are forward in the Armada defensive area. If not, Deltas can be lethal on the ball and for sure can score goals.
Expose the Right Side of the Deltas Defense.
The matchup will either be J.C. Banks vs. Karl Ouimette or Bryan Burke. Ha. Remember those guys? They both were a part of the Jacksonville Armada team last year that were an absolute embarrassment under Tony Meola.
Karl Ouimette. A center back by trade. Playing out wide? Ouimette started on the right side of the defense last week in their 3-1 victory over NCFC and there is no reason that he should not be the starting right fullback at Jacksonville. If this is the case, pace is the cure. Ouimette has quick bursts but can not continuously keep up with the pace that Jacksonville possesses in their side. Isolate Ouimette and work combinations around him throughout the night, he can easily be a lost cause and liability on the right side for Deltas at Jacksonville. This might be interesting if Jemal Johnson finds his way starting for Duval on the right wing instead of Banks..but doubtful..(;
Bryan Burke. Dubbed as a right back that can do it all, the man from Louisville produced jack squat for Armada during his year with the club. Burke encompasses the ability to press forward and be an extra option in attack for San Francisco, but the weak part of his game is his inability in decision making as to whether he should attack or stay anchored back with the defense. Positioning is an area where the fullback needs to improve and Jacksonville is capable of hashing up chances through mistakes on that side. Also, his defending is nothing special, so there’s that. Whoever starts on the right side of the back line of four, Jacksonville has got to attack and attack at that player heavily and with ferocity.
Jacksonville (4-3-3): Patterson-Sewell; Beckie, Jérôme, Pitchkolan, Ryden; Maripuu, George, Blake; Banks, Steinberger, Glenn.
Absolutely no change necessary for Jacksonville. Two wins in two matches in two different styles? Don’t switch what is working at the moment.
San Francisco(4-3-3): Peiser; Ouimette, Attakora, Reiner, Teijesse; Portilla, Stephens, Bekker; Dyego, Cruz, Heinemann.
Another unchanged lineup. After a 3-1 win against NCFC, there isn’t a reason for San Francisco to shake up their starting XI, especially one that looked as good as it did at home. Take the best to Jacksonville and start out with what was strong last week.
San Francisco Key Player:
Tom Heinemann. After scoring a brace last week, San Francisco will be leaning on the striker to provide in the attacking department, as they will be fighting for berth at the top of the table after the night ends. Three points are on the mind. It is important for the striker to step up on the road to prove whether San Francisco is the real deal in the North American Soccer League, or not.
Jacksonville Key Player:
Jonathan Glenn. The striker has had a difficult two weeks, matching up against a ruthless and dominant Edmonton defense. In Week One, Glenn was forced to play on a yellow card for over forty minutes, disengaging him from his normal style of play up top. In Week Two, after a very early Jacksonville goal, Glenn was isolated extremely and had no support going forward. Though he did well at holding the ball up on multiple occasions, he could not take on the entirety of the Edmonton defense. He failed in attacking the home team’s half, with no help, as the rest of the team were playing ultra defensively. San Francisco is a different story. The back line of Deltas is most definitely not as cohesive and strong as that of Edmonton, allowing for Jonathan Glenn to potentially have a better time leading the Jacksonville charge.
Saturday is huge for the Trini striker. After San Francisco, Jacksonville travel to New York Cosmos and then are at home to Indy Eleven the following week. The matches will be more challenging pressing forward through the season, and Jacksonville need a consistent goalscorer. An average of a goal a game will not win every match and if Armada have legitimate hope of wanting to qualify for the playoffs, there needs to be more goals found somewhere. In comes the opportunity of Glenn. A goal at home to San Francisco can spark a fire. The forward scores in bunches, and if he can achieve scoring his first goal against Deltas at home, there is a confidence about him that he can score at Cosmos and against Indianapolis. Jacksonville are in dire need of a striker with a capability of scoring in every match, as they have not rostered a lethal and constant goalscorer, ever. Glenn could be the one that takes this club into a new direction. Saturday is huge for the number nine.
Jacksonville 3-1 San Francisco. The midfield dominates possession, defense puts their shift in, and the forwards explode for three goals, taking the team to nine points, three wins out of three. Home field advantage will be crucial in Jacksonville gaining three points.
Goal Scorers? I have no clue for SF Deltas, let’s just say Tom Heinemann. For Jacksonville, Banks will score once and Glenn will score a brace. Bet on it.
When and Where?
No, we don’t stream our matches to Twitter, sorry. You can catch the match on beIN Sports. Jacksonville Armada-San Francisco Deltas kicks off at 7pm on the major sports network, but i suggest you just attend the game in person if possible. You won’t want to miss this.