By: Logan Alexander
Finally, Jacksonville Armada’s 2017 season is beginning to accelerate as the team has won two league matches on the bounce, away to San Francisco and at home to North Carolina FC. The sudden resurgence after four straight draws in the North American Soccer League has catapulted Armada back to second in the Spring Season table, two points from the summit. At the top of the league is who you would expect, though. Miami FC. The big spenders. The high flyers. The powerhouse South Floridian club that possesses an enormous amount of talent within its squad who have been dubbed to win the league since the start of the year. Saturday is pivotal. Goosebumps. Anxiety. Eagerness. Gameday.
North Carolina FC posed a threat to Jacksonville Armada FC at the weekend as the two clubs played two weeks earlier to a 3-1 scoreline in Cary, North Carolina. Sunday was a must win for Jacksonville to maintain their pace with Miami at the top of the pack. Especially due to the fact that Miami dropped points at home drawing to Puerto Rico FC, Armada needed to capitalize. Indeed, the mission was a success as two Zach Steinberger goals within two minutes led JAFC to a well earned three points, which importantly allowed for ground to be made up in the table. Now, the “Boys in Blue” sit in 2nd place in the standings on 16 points trailing the club that is upcoming on the schedule: Miami FC.
Miami Football Club have endured an excellent start to their campaign. With a record of 5-3-1 to begin the first half of the Spring, Alessandro Nesta’s squad have shown no signs of stopping as they continue to plow their way through the league. Luckily for Jacksonville, and essentially the other teams in the league, Puerto Rico FC traveled to Dade County on Saturday and impressively achieved a 1-1 draw. This was a result that could not be scripted well enough for Jacksonville. Due to this heroic performance by PRFC, Armada are clearly back in the race and the drama ensues in this season. Puerto Rico did not just earn a point, they also proved a point. Miami is not invincible, they are not perfect, the team has their flaws, and Jacksonville can threaten them this weekend.
Zach Steinberger has been a menace and is continuing to impress for the Fleet as he has single handedly earned the team six points in their last two matches, scoring four goals along with assisting on one. On the season, Steinberger has scored six and has a lone assist. Everything that has occurred through Zach Steinberger has led to this moment, a chance to over take the league lead against a Miami squad full of expectations. Against Miami though, the influential and playmaking midfielder will not be allowed as much freedom to roam and create, meaning other players in the squad need to step their game up. Yes, I’m bringing up the striker situation.
Derek Gebhard. Jonathan Glenn. Two strikers who are nothing alike but have potential. The spot is for the taking on the Armada team, as no striker ever rostered by Jacksonville has been able to score consistently for the side, one of the major downfalls from the past two seasons. Currently, Armada is grinding through the year without having to rely on goals from the forwards, but how long will this last? With results completely favoring Jacksonville, we have been fortunate to be in the position that we are in but this era of winning can change drastically. The fact of the matter is, we can not continue pouring our faith and hope into Zach Steinberger to be the leader of all the stat lines and save this team from the brink in matches. Goals have got to come elsewhere and right now, patience is running very thin for Jonathan Glenn and Derek Gebhard.
Combined, the two striking options have tallied 820 minutes, with only two goals to show for their time on the pitch. Absolutely shambolic and poor. As a matter of fact, what is even more alarming is the fact that in 820 minutes played, the pair have only shot the ball thirteen times. Jacksonville is not horrid in the attack either in regards to previous years. Fullbacks, midfielders in the squad have the ability to work the ball up the field and work their way into threatening attacking positions, yet with all of the possession and ability charging forward, there is nothing to show for the effort. Gebhard and Glenn have been lackluster, non-existent, and are currently a false hope.
On the other side of the field, Vincenzo Rennella has been lights out for Miami FC and is on a run of form nearly as ferocious as the Jacksonville attacking midfielder. Rennella has scored in four of his last five matches and also has three assists to his name over the course of the year. The production of Vincenzo Renella for Miami FC has been absolutely absurd and he has stolen the spotlight in the team. Interestingly enough, Renella has played around 175 minutes less than Derek Gebhard and Jonathan Glenn combined, yet has nearly three times more shots at the opposition’s goal. Four goals in 33 shots is not an efficient number, yet the striker is continuously creating chances for himself and testing whatever keeper he faces. Kwadwo Poku is another player that has excelled for Miami FC. In his second year after being transferred from New York City FC for $750k, Poku has amassed three goals and one assist and has started every match for the club. High profile players flood the lineup in what will certainly be Armada’s biggest test of 2017.
Rennella is the key player of the match for Miami FC as he attempts to continue his run of form at the weekend. For Jacksonville, the player to keep your eye on will be Kevan George in the center of the park for JAFC. With such an excellent midfield and attack, Miami will not shy away from pressing forward attacking with ferocity. Miami controls matches, home and away, no matter the scoreline. They are too good to be second best and I have a firm belief that the Armada defensive and midfield duo will see much of the orange and blue on the ball in attack. George has got to be perfect, as does his counterpart Nicklas Maripuu. Not only do the duo need to be brilliant in defense, but initiating attacks and transitioning the ball forward through such a well organized midfield will be crucial as well.
There is so much on the line Saturday as this matchup truly is marquee. First place versus second place. The race for the Spring Season championship. Jacksonville are undefeated at home, 2-3-0. Miami are undefeated on the road, 3-1-0. Also, don’t forget that this match is a supposed derby. This is the derby of dreams.