It was a hot, sunny, and humid afternoon in Northeast Florida as FC Edmonton visited from Alberta, Canada for opening day of the NASL season. Edmonton reached the playoffs in the 2016 campaign, while the Armada struggled in the bottom half of the table. The clash was set for 4:00 p.m. EST, and the festivities were well under way.
As Aaron (Wallace, Offside’s other lead editor) and I began our walk towards the stadium, we passed a parking lot buzzing with excitement and energy. Tailgate after tailgate littered the concrete lot and the heat didn’t seem to be putting a damper on anybody’s mood. It was roughly an hour before kickoff and the masses were beginning to gather for the trek to Hodges Stadium, where the two sides had just taken the pitch for warmups.
Just an hour later, the teams emerged from the tunnel, the Armada sporting their traditional navy blue kits while FC Edmonton wore all white to combat the foreign heat. From far above, in the press box atop the bleachers of Hodges Stadium, we watched as the first half crawled by and ended 0-0. With only a handful of shots between the two sides, neither team managed to make the opposing ‘keeper work. Both sides were trying to play possession football, but mistakes on either end had the stats nearly even at the half way mark, with the Armada retaining the ball 58.6% of the time.
The uneventful first half did nothing to quiet the crowd, and the rowdy “Section 904” fan area was still booming as the players emerged for round two. Play resumed and looked much like the first half, with both teams playing through the back and bombing the ball forward to their respective target men. Excitement finally came in the 77th minute Armada winger J.C. Banks capitalized on an Edmonton defender’s hard touch. Banks knicked the ball and broke free towards the left side of the area, sliding the ball cooly along the ground towards the far post and scored what would become the game winner. Even from inside the box, the crowd was deafening. The nearly 3,500 people in attendance broke into madness all at once as Banks slotted home to score the Armada’s first goal of 2017.
In speaking with Banks after the match, he had this to say:
The game plan is, when we lose [the ball], we want to get it back right away. I got after it, broke a few tackles, and just looked to miss the keeper and hit the back of the net. I saw space… I was just looking to take advantage.
The winger is new to the Armada this season, having just recently transfered from Minnesota United FC. If Sunday afternoon is any indication, his future in Jacksonville will be bright. The Milwaukee native was all smiles as he thanked us and returned to signing autographs and talking with the fans along the edge of the pitch.
Manager Mark Lowry had nothing but good things to say in talking with him after the match. The 2017 campaign will be his second with the Jacksonville club, and he is all too aware of the rebuilding process he has immersed himself in. If the rest of the season can play out as well as opening day, Lowry and the rest of the Armada staff should have a promising second season. Lowry had this to say after the match:
With about 30 minutes left in the game, I turned to my staff and said, ‘there’s three points here, you know. We can win this game.’ Fortunately, we got the goal and that kind of changed our tactics a little bit. It was more now a case of, we don’t need to push on now, we need to conserve the lead… It was a great team effort.
The manager left us with a positive feeling to carry on into the next match. Sure, the match wasn’t the most exciting thing to watch, but the manager is focused on the team’s effort and ability to work together, something he says they did quite well on Sunday afternoon. It may not have been pretty, but three points is three points all the same.
For more on the Jacksonville Armada and other American soccer clubs, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit us at www.off-side.co.uk.