Armada now 3-0 at home after win
The 1-0 win over Atlanta Saturday was the second win in four days for the Armada FC.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bring up something like a winning streak around Guillermo Hoyos, and you're more likely to spark a philosophical soliloquy about the nature of competition or the importance of diligence than any kind of celebration.
But even the patient, process-focused head coach of Jacksonville Armada FC had to admit this was "a beautiful thing."
In their latest step toward erasing a rough start to this North American Soccer League Fall Season, the Armada dispatched the red-hot Atlanta Silverbacks 1-0 in front of 7,054 fans at Community First Park on Saturday night.
The victory gave the Armada (3W-1D-4L Fall Season, 6-4-8 Combined) their first back-to-back wins since May and first back-to-back clean sheets ever, their 10th point in the past five matches, and their first win over the Silverbacks, who had come in with only one loss in their past seven games.
"This feels good," forward Pascal Millien said. "We need points. This was a tough week, but we got it done. And two shutouts - what more can you ask for?"
Millien started the play that led to the game-winner. He fed Shawn Nicklaw through down the right side, and when Atlanta 'keeper Steward Ceus deflected the ensuing cross, it fell to midfielder Jaime Castrillon in the middle of the box.
The Colombian wasted no time, rifling a shot into the net for his second goal in as many games.
From there, the home side turned in a resolute defensive performance to hand Atlanta their first shutout in nine matches.
But it was almost foiled at the last second, when the Armada were fortunate to avoid giving up an equalizer.
After Armada center back Lucas Trejo had his penalty kick saved in the 90th minute, it set up six nervy minutes of stoppage time.
At the very end, an Atlanta long ball pulled Armada 'keeper David Sierra out of his net, and when it sailed over a crowd, it fell to Silverbacks defender Mohammed Issahaku, who was running wide open toward the back post. A simple tap would have rescued a point, but instead, he tripped himself up, ran past the ball and dragged it out for a goal kick.
The final whistle blew on the ensuing kick, and a visibly dejected Issahaku could be seen leaning on the wall outside the locker room afterward.
"I wasn't expecting him to miss," said Armada center back Fabricio Ortiz, flashing a smile of disbelief.
That wild ending didn't do the match justice, as it was mostly a well-defended, cagey tactical battle that Jacksonville controlled for long stretches.
The Armada essentially played four forwards - using Akeil Barrett as an attacking midfielder - against Atlanta's three-man back line, while the Silverbacks hoped to absorb pressure with a five-man midfield, win the ball and quickly look for their forwards in transition.
One of those forwards, Pedro Mendes, came in as the reigning NASL Player of the Week and had three goals in two games, and he drew plenty of attention from Armada holding midfielder Lucas Scaglia and center backs Ortiz and Trejo.
All three of them had moments of brilliant one-on-one defending, and Ortiz was named the Farah & Farah Man of the Match.
The biggest play of the first 20 minutes came from Ortiz, who sprinted back and slid to break up a Michael Reed pass that would have put Mendes through on goal. Ortiz then got to his feet and blocked Mendes' follow-up shot, and minutes later, he and Scaglia launched back-to-back slide tackles to stop Mendes on the break.
At the other end, the back three of Paul Black, Simon Mensing and Rauwshan McKenzie did a good job of staying compact and limiting space for the Armada's forwards to work with.
But that changed in the 41st minute, when Millien and Nicklaw opened up the space that led to Castrillon's goal.
After the half, the Armada controlled most of the action and made three defensive substitutions that held Atlanta in check until Issahaku's stoppage time flub.
In a way, that late drama might have benefitted Hoyos, who was quick to point out that his team has lots of work ahead despite the two wins.
"We still have a lot to compete for," he said. "Obviously it's very gratifying for everybody, and it's obvious that we're happy, but we won't let that get the best of us. We've always competed."
The Armada will hit the road next weekend to face the San Antonio Scorpions on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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