By: Logan Alexander
Six months to the exact date, finally, regular season football has returned for the Jacksonville Armada. Just months ago, Jacksonville finished the 2017 NASL season fighting for a playoff spot and securing a 2-0 win at San Francisco. Now, the Fleet aim to begin life in the National Premier Soccer League on a winning note. Last year Jacksonville was a professional football club fighting for the playoffs, and now, the club enters the semi-professional scene vying to retain relevance. Everything is different now. Who cares about the differences though? Football is football no matter the division a club may find itself in, and Saturday night will surely be a heated affair between two NASL exiles as Jacksonville travel south to Miami FC 2 for what may be the biggest match in the NPSL this year.
The history between Jacksonville and Miami has not been one that Armada fans would like to reflect on. Jacksonville are 2-6-0 against MFC all-time. In five meetings between the two teams last year the Armada were not only held winless, but also remained goalless against a dominant Miami defense that only allowed 28 goals in the league the whole season. That being said, these two rosters are vastly different than what the teams displayed last year due to the off-season drama, which makes the contest that much more intriguing.
Miami FC 2 enter tonight’s match already having played twice in the league this year as their season began on April 15th. With two games played, Miami has secured two points and both of their matches against Miami United FC have ended 1-1.
The most recent encounter between the two Miami clubs was the worst of the two including nine yellow cards and four reds. Tyler Ruthven and Dylan Mares are the duo that received a sending off this past weekend and will miss out against Jacksonville on Saturday night. Ruthven received a booking in the 32nd minute of the match, and just thirty seconds later was sent off for dissent which gave Miami United the man advantage. Just twelve minutes later, United equalized. The match played out with the same chippy nature that was expected, leading into the 90th minute scuffle that included three red cards handed out, one of which was to midfielder Dylan Mares.
Jacksonville enters into the fray coming off of a mixed preseason. The Fleet defeated local colleges Flagler, 2-0, and the University of North Florida, 3-0, but fell 2-1 at the hands of D.C. United and 1-0 to Charleston Battery. Throughout the up and down beginning, Mark Lowry continues to be impressed by what the squad is displaying and how they are fitting the system that has been envisioned. Derek Gebhard has looked inspiring on the left side of midfield and also playing higher forward on the wing, while Yuma is a rock in the center of the park, not afraid to make a crunching tackle. Saturday night will also see the return of Mechak Jérôme, Ciaràn Kilduff, and potentially Drew Beckie back to the squad and available for starting selection.
Armada Squad Prediction: (4-3-3)
Holt; Melvin, Jérôme, McInerney, Charpie; Silva, Yuma, Banks; Gebhard, Doyle, Kilduff
Brian Holt is expected to start for Jacksonville between the sticks. Holt has joined the Armada from New York Cosmos where he was a backup to Jimmy Maurer from 2015 until 2017. The 29-year-old Omaha native recently received the starting job against UNF back in March when he was a trialist for the club. Holt has retained the starting job for Charleston and Atlanta in consecutive matches and is for certain Mark Lowry’s first choice keeper moving forward.
The weakest link of the squad, but not necessarily due to the fact that the quality is poor. With Drew Beckie questionable to return against Miami FC, Mechak Jérôme will command the back line with three new faces to the club in Wes Charpie, Shane McInerney, and Michael Melvin. McInerney will slot into the vacant center back role with Jérôme after Aaron Pitchkolan decided in the off-season to hang up the boots and become an assistant coach for the club. Wes Charpie will start at left back and be a key figure in the attack for Jacksonville as he possesses an attacking threat on the left flank.
Earlier in his career Charpie started as a left midfielder, so watch for his interchanging runs and rotation into the midfield. Melvin and McInerney are the ones to watch tonight, as the two have the least amount of experience and are up against the strong attacking threat of Don Smart, Aly Hassan, and Jaime Chávez.
The heart of Jacksonville Armada Football Club. Yuma, JC Banks, and Christian Silva are expected to make the start in the center of the park for the Fleet. Silva will feature as a holding midfield/central defensive midfielder, while Yuma will play a little higher up the field and be more influential in the attack.
JC Banks looks to finally emerge back in his most dominant role, underneath the striker as an attacking midfielder. Last year was difficult for the American as he was rotated to the right wing, giving way for Zach Steinberger to take over the CAM role. Banks picks his passes and is a player who develops attacks, not one that forces the issue running at defenders and looking to cross the ball into the box. Starting at central attacking midfield in 2018 could be a sign of new life for JC who flourished in the position for Minnesota United a couple years back.
Conor Doyle joins Jacksonville from Puerto Rico FC where he made 28 appearances and featured on the scoresheet five times. Doyle likely will start on the right wing but has the possibility to interchange with Derek Gebhard throughout the night. The most impressive part of the preseason, at least from what I saw, was the ambition and drive of Gebhard. The young player shows an abundance of life slotting in at winger rather than playing as a forward, and his pace is lethal. Gebhard seems like a more well-rounded player when he is out wide.
Lastly, Ciaràn Kilduff. Feed the big Irishman the ball. If crosses are accurate, he will latch onto the ball, one hundred percent. Kilduff bodies opponents off of the ball and is a danger to defenses when in an advanced position. Without Tyler Ruthven in defense tonight for Miami, Kilduff could generate more scoring chances as the defense may leak. Who am I kidding, Kilduff would have plenty of chances with against a soft defender like Ruthven anyways.
Jacksonville Armada will look to take first place in the NPSL Sunshine Conference tonight as they face Miami FC 2 at 7pm in Miami.