Armada win Fall home opener
Armada smash Cosmos 11-match unbeaten streak
JACKSONVILE, Fla. – There were bound to be trying times during the Jacksonville Armada FC's inaugural season, and on paper, none looked more bleak than Saturday.
But despite coming off three shutout losses, being without four of their best players and facing the unbeaten New York Cosmos, the Armada pieced together one of their most complete performances, dispatching the NASL's Spring Season champions 1-0 in front of 8,167 fans at Community First Park.
"We needed the result," goalkeeper David Sierra said. "We started (the Fall Season) playing three games away, and while we know that's not an excuse, we lost. We needed this victory. It was too important to us."
Making his first start, Jacksonville's own Tommy Krizanovic played the role of hometown hero by tapping in a Jaime Castrillón header in the 54th minute for his first goal. From there, the Armada showed something that had been missing too often in previous matches: resolute defending.
Instead of his usual swashbuckling style, Armada FC head coach Guillermo Hoyos subbed on two defenders for forwards, and his side rode out wave after wave of attack thanks in large part to Sierra, who handed the Cosmos their first shutout of the year and earned the Farah & Farah Man of the Match.
Hoyos conceded his side had to "play a little different," which was partly due to a rash of absences.
Alhassane Keita (suspension, red card), Marcos Flores (injured, hamstring), and Pascal Millien (on national team duty with Haiti) were all out, taking nine of the team's 15 goals (entering Saturday) with them. It also didn't help to have defender Matt Bahner sidelined with a knee injury.
So when the Armada snapped a 324-minute scoring drought via Krizanovic's goal and saw a chance to hand the Cosmos their first NASL loss since November, they got defensive.
"Us having scored first, that changes things," Krizanovic said. "We were desperate for a win, and coach made good substitutions. Everything was tactical from there on out, and we just wanted to preserve the win and finish off the game."
Out of the gate, the Armada tried to play their usual possession-oriented style, but any giveaway was met with a swift rush of Cosmos. The best chance of the early going came via Sebastian Guenzatti, who poked a slow roller through a crowd from the top of the box that Sierra tipped just wide.
Sierra wasn't able to stop the next one, a curling, right-footed free kick from Hunter Freeman, but the left post did. Five minutes later, it looked like Raúl would finish the job after he drew Sierra out of goal, but the Real Madrid legend chipped wide.
Sierra stoned the next opportunity in the 28th when Guenzatti took a sliding shot from a few yards out, and when he did the same to Lucky Mkosana in the 42nd, New York had its best chance to score via Raúl on the rebound. But once again, his aim was off, and the shot clanged off the right post.
The Armada showed a few flashes of sharp combination play but never got close to the goal in the first half, instead being reduced to wild shots from outside the box.
That began to change early in the second, as the match morphed into a fast-paced, back-and-forth affair.
The breakthrough came when Lucas Scaglia sent in a pass for Castrillón just in front of goal. The midfielder won the header between a defender and 'keeper Jimmy Maurer, popping the ball over all three toward the open net, where Krizanovic was waiting.
The former standout at Englewood High School, Jacksonville University and Jacksonville United FC calmly put it away, providing the fuel for his club's most impressive win of the year.
"It was very emotional for me because my family is here, but if one of the other guys had scored I would have been just as happy," Krizanovic said, adding he made double sure the goal counted after having one disallowed earlier this year.
"Considering what happened last time in Atlanta, I did actually," he said. "I looked at the referee, but then I looked at my teammates, and as they kept celebrating, I figured it was a goal."
From there, Sierra stuffed Raúl and Walter Restrepo from close range as the Cosmos tried to pull back level. He made another huge save in the 88th from Restrepo's long-range effort, then held on as Mads Stokkelien tried to run through him in pursuit of a loose ball in the dying minutes.
With the win, the Armada picked up their first points of the Fall Season (1W-0D-3L NASL Fall, 4-3-7 NASL Combined) and improved their overall home record to 4-1-1.
It also gave them four points in two matches against the Cosmos after a 3-3 draw on the road in June.
"It's important because the Cosmos are the Cosmos," Hoyos said. "They're one of the best teams, and we're a new team. It's important for the whole institution of the Armada."
Then, after a slight pause, he added, "And the three points are huge."
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