BLAINE, Minn. – Despite rattling off seven shots and having a virtual dead heat in possession, the Jacksonville Armada could not convert key chances in a 2-0 loss to Minnesota United FC on Saturday night at National Sports Center Stadium.
Jacksonville (1W-1D-4L) also won 52.9 percent of its duels and was more accurate with its passes than Minnesota and had more success with its crosses. But first half goals by United FC’s Kevin Venegas and Stefano Pinho proved to be too much for the Armada to overcome.
The sides played to a stalemate in the early going until the 16th minute when Minnesota pushed the ball into the attacking third. Just when it looked the Armada would escape danger, Mechack Jerômé stumbled on his clearance, which allowed Christian Ramirez to feed Kevin Venegas.
Venegas then curled a world-class shot from 18-yards out off his left foot past a diving Miguel Gallardo and into the upper 90 of the left side of the goal.
It looked like Jacksonville had an answer five minutes later when Jemal Johnson slipped in a crisp through ball to Matt Fondy, who suddenly found himself staring down United goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock from 10-yards out. Fondy took control of the ball and fired a rocket toward the net, but it flew left of the goal.
In the 23rd minute, the Loons’ Danny Cruz sent in a dangerous cross that Gallardo interrupted and collided with Stefano Pinho at the same time. The Armada then pushed it down the opposite with a long ball being sent in to Fondy, who collided with Ndjock in attempt to win it. Four minutes later, Johnson created another chance for Jacksonville when he sent in a diagonal cross for Pascal Millien, but the ball hung up too long, allowing Ndjock to pull it down.
The Loons (4-1-1) then took firm control in the 28th when they were able to create pressure on the Armada’s end and clog traffic around goal. It allowed Pinho to find his perfect spot in front of the goal and slam it in to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota nearly made it 3-0 in the 33rd when a Brent Kallman header close to the goal almost made it in, but Gallardo was able to get a hand on the ball and tip it over the goal.
Charles Eloundou had perhaps the Armada’s best scoring opportunity in the second half when his blast from the left side of the box in the 77th minute went a bit far left of the goal. Eloundou had another attempt off an Alhassane Keita pass in the 81st stopped by Ndjock.
The win helped Minnesota move into first place on the NASL Spring Season table, while Jacksonville remains in 10th place.