Armada FC wins preseason opener on rain soaked pitch

Jacksonville hosts Orlando City SC on Saturday


The Jacksonville Armada FC kicked off the preseason with a 1-0 win over the MLS’s Philadelphia Union Saturday night at Community First Park.
Charles Eloundou connected on a pass from Akeil Barrett and sent his shot up and over the over the outstretched arm of keeper John McCarthy. The victory ushered in the Tony Meola era as head coach.
“Those are my two favorite words: win and shutout,” Meola said. “My entire life, that’s all I’ve talked about.”
Meola, who was inducted in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012, takes over a club that finished 8-7-15 (W-D-L) overall in its inaugural season in the North American Soccer League, good for an 11th-place combined finish.
On Saturday both Meola and Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin toyed with and adjusted their lineups. After just a few weeks of practice they wanted to observe and evaluate their veterans and new signees.
“We talked about taking a step today, and the first step was being organized,” Meola said following the match. “I thought we were organized the entire game.”
The Armada came out with five defenders, including new signings Tyler Ruthven, Beto Navarro and Bryan Burke. Meola’s preseason goal is to be two deep at every position.
“Last year between injuries and losing guys to international duty, the team always seemed so depleted,” Meola said. “You don’t like losing guys, but it’s going to happen.”.
The Union used three different lineups, each getting 30 minutes. Curtin’s presumed starting lineup, minus Maurice Edu who missed the game while continuing his rehab, controlled much of the first 30 minutes. Philadelphia’s Ibrahima Diaby Fabinho played a few combinations with new left-wing partner Chris Pontius.

The Armada’s Alhassane Keita had a goal called back for offsides… The Union won possesion 56-44, and forced more shots on target, 4-3, but were unable to beat Jacksonville goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo… Meola looks to play out of a 4-3-3 formation in addition to the 3-5-2… Forward Jemal Johnson and midfielders Richie Ryan and Lucas Scaglia missed the game due to injuries… Eloundou scored the winner in the 80th minute… The Union were able to rotate 31 players in their preseason opener.

Saturday night’s chilly, rain-soaked Armada win wasn’t as flashy or dry as last season’s meeting. In front of a modern era NASL preseason record 13,934 fans at EverBank Field. The Armada rode three first-half goals to a 3-1 preseason win over the Union. Defender Fabricio Ortiz (7th minute) and forward Alhassane Keita (11th minute) scored. Lucas Trejo tallied the third via a penalty in first-half stoppage time.

The Armada host another MLS foe, Orlando City SC, at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Lions opened their 2016 MLS preseason schedule with a 4-0 victory over Eastern Florida State College last Sunday afternoon at the Titan Soccer Complex in Melbourne, Fla. It was a match that featured two different lineups in each half, marking the Lions’ debut of 2016 MLS SuperDraft picks Richie Laryea and Hadji Barry, goalkeeper Joe Bendik and midfielder Tony Rocha in the first 45, and defender Kevin Alston in the second.