Jacksonville Sports Day

NASL: Armada Notch Another Point In Standings After 3-3 Draw

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Seconds after the final whistle and customary cannon fire, Taylor Swift’s voice came booming out of the Community First Park speakers.

“Cause baby now we got bad blood.”

It’s official – there’s no love lost between Jacksonville Armada FC and Minnesota United FC.

In what makes for their third wild matchup this year, the two sides played to an emotional 3-3 draw that featured a sending off, rapid momentum swings and down-to-the-wire drama.

When the dust settled, the Armada had four points from games against tough opponents (New York and Minnesota) on this home stand, but the Boys in Blue and their 6,847 fans left lamenting the draw as a lost opportunity after leading 3-1 with fewer than 15 minutes to play.

“We lost two points,” head coach Guillermo Hoyos said, although he added it was “a good game against a good team.”

With 12 minutes to go, it looked like the Armada had three points in the bag.

For the first time since May, they had all three first-choice forwards on the field, with Alhassane Keita back from a red card at Minnesota two games earlier, Pascal Millien home from international duty, and Jemal Johnson in his usual place on the left.

To surprise the visitors, Hoyos replaced injured attacking midfielder Marcos Flores with Akeil Barrett, essentially playing a 3-3-4 formation with a four-man swarm of speedy strikers up top.

That paid off via goals by Johnson, Barrett and Keita, and even after Miguel Gallardo whiffed on a Justin Davis cross and let it slip into his net in the 78th, the lead appeared safe.

Then, it unraveled.

Shawn Nicklaw picked up a second yellow card and was sent off in the 84th, and mere seconds later, Ibson knotted up the score with a shot from the left.

The final minutes were played in a frenzy, and emotions were still running high among players as they walked to the locker rooms.

It capped a trilogy of tough matches against Minnesota in the Armada’s inaugural season, following a 3-2 loss in a second-half shootout in May, and a 4-0 loss this month that saw Keita sent off and Flores injured.

A draw was an improvement, and there were bright signs on the attacking end, but it just wasn’t enough to put the Loons away.

“We made a lot more opportunities today,” Johnson said. “It was an attacking, very aggressive style of play. We tried our best to get the three points, but being able to defend and close out a game is the most important thing, so we’re going to work on it in training again this week.”

Johnson kicked off the scoring in the fifth minute, after Barrett launched an attack and Scaglia found the Englishman at the back post.

After the Armada struck, Minnesota launched wave after wave of attack until, in the 21st minute, midfielder Kalif Alhassan sent a high cross to the back post, where 2014 NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez was waiting, unmarked.

His header tied the score, but the stalemate wouldn’t last.

Just two minutes later, it was Minnesota’s turn for an inexplicable defensive lapse. Keita pressured keeper Mitch Hildebrandt, who was switched into the starting lineup shortly before kickoff.

Hildebrandt panicked and passed straight to Barrett, who wasted no time finishing for his first career goal.

“Most of the work was done by Keita,” Barrett said, crediting his teammate’s pressure for the goal.

The quick response was a welcome sight, but Jacksonville went to the locker room lamenting a missed opportunity for a third.

In the 40 th minute, Millien’s cross was deflected to Keita, who seemed a safe bet to finish with his usual efficiency. Instead, his shot went wide and fell to Barrett, with time and space just outside the six-yard box. But Barrett didn’t get much on the ball, and it rolled into Hildebrandt.

In the 57th, it was the Armada’s turn for a fortunate escape.

Minnesota’s Ramirez chipped over Gallardo, who went flying into the back of the net trying to make a save. The ball clanged off the crossbar with Gallardo on the ground, but he recovered and came rushing out to stuff Daniel Mendes’ bid for a rebound equalizer.

The Armada seemed all set to follow the same script from a 1-0 win over the New York Cosmos two weeks earlier, bringing on defender Jordan Gafa for Millien to focus on holding the lead. But when center back Fabricio Ortiz went down with an injury five minutes later, they had to adapt.

With no direct replacement available, Guillermo Hoyos had to bring on midfielder Nicolas Perea instead and move Jaime Castrillón back to defense.

While that unorthodox lineup did produce Keita’s goal just two minutes later – a sprinting finish on a cross from Johnson – it unsettled the back line and left Jacksonville unable to cope with the late pressure.

In addition to the two late goals, Gallardo had to come out and make a point-blank stoppage time save of Juliano Vicentini’s volley to preserve the draw.

The Armada will be back in action on Aug. 8 against another rival, making the trip to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 7:30 p.m.

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