Early Nerves go Unpunished

Football is not always a pretty sport. To be a champion, of any league, teams have to learn how to win ugly matches. When play is not quite clicking, when touches are slightly off, winning teams find a way to win. The Jacksonville Armada did exactly that against the Indy Eleven on Saturday night.

Despite the 4-1 scoreline it was not a statement win by the Armada. The first few minutes were characterized by the Armada’s sloppy midfield play and Indy’s ferocious high press. At 1-1 Indy were the more dangerous team. Poor control by the Jacksonville defenders and midfielders allowed Indianapolis to pounce and immediately attack, creating a variety of chances for Éamon Zayed. However, Indy failed to capitalize and were eventually undone by their frustrations. Despite their better form J.C. Banks scored for the Armada in the 41st minute, making it 2-1.

After being continuously whistled for fouls, Indianapolis center back Lovel Palmer took exception to a high boot from Jack Blake and decided to push him in the neck area. He received a red card for his actions. Palmer’s sending off was not controversial, but the whistle blew Jacksonville’s way early in the match leaving many Indy fans feeling hard done. The Armada faithful can certainly sympathize with the experience of inconsistent officiating, but had nothing to complain about last night.

The Armada Play a Man Up

With a man advantage the Armada were able to put the game to rest. J.C. Banks scored his second goal in the 50th minute, and Derek Gebhard scored in the 60th minute. At 4-1 Jacksonville had both hands on the steering wheel but still failed to take complete control of the match.

Indianapolis winger Don Smart gave Armada left back Kalen Ryden fits despite the scoreline. Smart’s appearance was the first in four weeks due to injury. Despite a bit of rust Smart was able to run at Ryden rather successfully and get plenty of service into the box. Teams with quick wingers are starting to realize that Ryden is not 100% comfortable as a left back yet, and can struggle when isolated one-on-one. Fortunately for the Armada, Don Smart grew tired, his crosses failed to find a target, and he was eventually substituted.

Don Smart battles Kalen Ryden. Photo courtesy of @naslofficial.

 

10 v 10

The Indy Eleven were potent through other channels than Smart, even down a man. In the 68th minute a ball over the top of the Armada defense found former Armada player Jason Plumoff in space. Caleb Patterson-Sewell came out of the 18-yard box for a bit of sweeper keeper and handled the ball. His red card will make the Armada’s next match especially interesting.

The match was a solid back and forth until the 75th minute when the Indy Eleven finally seemed to gas. With the exception of their two center back the remaining players were running box-to-box, high pressing, and all with one less player. The Armada certainly deserve credit for the victory but it was not until the Indy Eleven lost their legs that win felt secured.

 

Conclusions and Moving Forward

Derek Gebhard

At 21 years of age Gebhard is under pressure to perform as the Armada’s lone striker. While Jonathan Glenn is not lazy, he does not fit the system as well as Gebhard. Derek Gebhard won the penalty that was the Armada’s first goal of the evening and hammered home a cross in the 60th minute. As always his ability to press the ball, draw fouls, and chase through balls were the hallmarks of a solid performance.

However, Gebhard is not a finished product. He lacks confidence in his ability to take players one-on-one, and that was readily apparent when he picked the ball up out wide. Gebhard’s hold up play has also been heavily criticized by fans. It seems that Gebhard either loses possession or draws a foul when playing with his back to goal.

Derek Gebhard is the likely starter for the Jacksonville Armada moving forward. While he has holes in his game the young forward suits Mark Lowry’s style more than his teammate Jonathan Glenn.

Being a league-owned team with few financial resources the Armada are unlikely to add a third striking option to the roster unless a player is sold. There are plenty of players available though. It is the time of year when players, particularly in England, are ageing out of academies and U-23 teams. There are usually late-bloomers and hidden gems in these players, and the lack of a transfer fee is a necessity for the Jacksonville Armada. However, whether the Armada has the scouting network, financial resources, and contacts to find and sign such players is a complete unknown.

That being said fans will continue to steam over the Armada striker situation. Derek Gebhard’s development and performance is vital to the Armada’s future success but as the long as the team continues to perform well Gebhard avoids being a potential scapegoat.

Nicklas Maripuu

After the match up with the Indy Eleven one thing is crystal clear. Nicklas Maripuu lacks confidence. With Kevan George on international duty Maripuu had the perfect opportunity to make the case for more minutes and failed to do so. In a game where Jacksonville needed authority and confidence Maripuu disappeared. Sometimes when viewers do not notice a defensive midfielder it is a good sign. It can mean that the player has done all the dirty work, blocks, tackles, pressing, screens, etc.

Nicklas Maripuu works on his control in training. Photo courtesy of @JaxArmadaFC.

That was not the case last night. Maripuu was fairly anonymous. Poor touches when recycling possession allowed Indy to press with success. There were no crunching tackles that put fear into Indianapolis. Until they went a man down Indy Eleven played through the Jacksonville midfield with ease. Maripuu may be the best option while Kevan George is on international duty, but he will certainly find himself on the bench once George returns.

Caleb Patterson-Sewell and the Third Keeper Situation

One of the Armada’s marquee signings has landed the club in a spot of trouble following his red card dismissal due to the one match suspension associated with a red card. University of North Florida graduate Kyle Nasta performed well off the bench once Patterson-Sewell was dismissed, and Nasta has played in cup matches this year. Nasta will start against Miami, the question is about a back-up keeper on the bench. The Jacksonville Armada only maintain a roster of 20 players (The NASL allows a maximum of 30 active players plus an additional 7 inactive players) due to financial constraints. There is no third keeper on the roster. However, there are several options for the Armada’s trip to Miami.

Signing a free agent is a potential solution for the Armada. However, it is an unlikely possibility. While free agent signings are permitted outside the transfer window the NASL does have a league minimum salary (rumored to be $15,000), and paying that sum for a third keeper is cost prohibitive for a team trying to pinch pennies. Unfortunately for the Armada trial players (unsigned players that play for the team without compensation) are not permitted in competitive matches.

Andrew Weber is currently the most valued (according to Transfermarkt) American goalkeeper out of contract. He was released by the Portland Timbers in January of 2016 and has not played since. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The NASL does allow loan signings outside of the American transfer window. Especially when it comes to goalkeepers. There are no rules regarding the length of the loan, compensation, etc. Therefore the Armada could quite easily sign a U-23 keeper on a ten day loan contract. Doing so would be the simplest and most cost effective method of ensuring the team has an emergency goalkeeper.

The third option would be to register goalkeeping coach Daryl Sattler with the NASL and move him to the bench. Due to his position on the coaching staff it is unclear how the NASL would adjudicate a move. More specifically, it is unclear whether or not Sattler’s coaching salary would count as the league’s mandated minimum. If it does, the Armada have two simple options for the Miami match. If Sattler’s salary does not fulfill the league’s requirements then the Armada would be required to pay him a minimum salary upon registration.

Sattler enjoyed professional success as a player in the NASL prior to coaching. Photo courtesy of @JaxArmadaFC.

The final option would be to roll the dice and travel to Miami without a backup keeper. In the event that Kyle Nasta were injured or dismissed an outfield player would be forced to take the gloves. While a common practice in England’s lower divisions the Armada faithful will not be pleased should it occur in Miami.

Miami FC Away

Miami is a wealthy team that is often resented by  many NASL fans. While teams such as Jacksonville travel with six rather than seven subs to save money, Miami is fairly capable of splashing cash. They even offered a player-management contract to Roma legend Francesco Tottie.   Miami also handed Jacksonville their first home loss of the season, and currently sit atop the table. The Armada will be looking for revenge, and first place, as they travel down I-95 this upcoming weekend.