ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Jacksonville Armada got the North American Soccer League Fall Season off to a positive start, drawing 1-1 with archrivals, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, on Saturday night in a hostile environment at Al Lang Stadium in front of 7,690.
The result extended the Armada’s league unbeaten streak to four and helped gain a tough point on the road in the Combined standings.
Goalkeeper Sean Lewis had an impressive professional debut, making clutch stop after clutch stop and finishing with a club record 10 saves en route to being named the Farah and Farah Man of the Match.
Jacksonville (0W-1D-0L Fall, 1-5-5 Combined) made a statement early when it got on the board first in the 12th minute. Defender Mechack Jerômé, who debuted at right back, made a run down the wing and crossed it front of the goal, where a charging Zach Steinberger got a foot on it and put the ball in the back of the net.
But the exuberating moment was short-lived as Tampa Bay (0-1-0 Fall, 4-5-2 Combined) knotted it just a minute later on a similar goal from Georgi Hristov. Darnell King slid in a cross for Hristov, who connected with his left foot to send the ball past a diving Lewis.
The Rowdies nearly took the lead in the 20th when a blast from Kalif Alhassan from the top left corner of the box deflected off the right post. Lewis came through with another trio of saves in the 34th and 35th minutes off shots from Tampa Bay’s Michael Nanchoff, Juan Guerra and Tamika Mkandawire. Tampa Bay continued to bombard Jacksonville the rest of the half, but Lewis and the backline held firm.
Steinberger had the Armada’s first chance of the second half when his shot from outside the box sailed over the goal in the 58th minute. Junior Sandoval followed it up with a pair of shots in the 71st and 74th that were blocked and went too high, respectively.
In the 85th, Steinberger had another solid chance off a Jerômé cross that was blocked. Lucas Scaglia joined in with a shot in the 86th to the bottom right corner of the goal, but Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens was able to come up with the save.
The Rowdies put one final scare into the Armada in 90th when a Tom Heinemann header off a Junior Burgos cross missed to the right.
Lewis’ standout performance was supported by a solid defensive performance, which finished with 18 clearances and won all nine of its tackles.