JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A spark was in the air at Community First Park on Saturday night, and it came from from Jacksonville Armada forward Charles Eloundou.
Eloundou netted the first two goals of his NASL career in helping lead the Armada to a hard-fought 2-2 draw with the Carolina RailHawks. It was the first multiple-goal effort by a Jacksonville player since Alhassane Keita scored twice against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Aug. 8, 2015.
Jacksonville (1W-2D-5L 5 pts. NASL Fall, 2-6-10, 12 pts. Combined) was aided by strong ball distribution, finishing with an 82.8 percent passing accuracy. The result snapped the Armada's five-match losing streak.
The RailHawks (2-2-3, 8 pts., 6-5-7, 22 pts.) started off with a fierce attack, pushing down the pitch with pace and knocking the Armada on its heels. Three minutes after his close call in the fourth minute, Matt Fondy completed a feat he never did in eight matches with the Armada—he scored a goal. Drew Beckie got the ball and fed it nicely to an open Fondy, who tapped the ball in for an easy goal.
Just one minute later, Armada defender Karl Ouimette turned the ball over on the edge of Jacksonville's box, leading to a wide open shot for Beckie from the top. Luckily for the Armada, goalkeeper Sean Lewis made a diving save to keep the deficit at one. Fondy got another chance at the goal with a header in the ninth, but it fell softly into Lewis’ arms.
For the next 10 minutes, the RailHawks' attack was able to put constant pressure on the Armada defense, taking advantage of several turnovers. In the 17th minute, Shipalane put a move on Ruthven that sent him falling to the ground. Shipalane then got a cross in to a wide open Fondy, but the opportunity was not taken advantage of as Fondy sent the ball wide of the net.
Finally, in the 19th minute, the Armada got back on level with its opponent. Lucas Scaglia came down the right side of the box and chipped the ball to Eloundou, who volleyed the cross over the head of RailHawks 'keeper Akira Fitzgerald into the net.
Defender Bryan Burke had no doubt that the team would rally after falling behind early.
“The way we were playing the first 20 minutes, we were going after it and we knew we were going to get a goal,” said Burke. “It just depended on when. We just had to keep buckling down and get it.”
Two minutes later, Eloundou came racing through the defense to the top of the box and put another shot on goal, but this time Fitzgerald was there with the diving save.
Head coach Tony Meola knew that once the Armada attack got their feet under them, good things would happen.
“We got burnt early in the game and then we made the adjustment,” Meola said. “To me, that was the most important part. Once we got the ball, we had a lot of options to go forward.”
The teams would trade corners for the rest of the half to no avail, with neither team tallying a shot on goal.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the first half came during the scheduled water break in the 32nd minute. RailHawks midfielder Austin da Luz was given a yellow card from the referee for arguing about the water break.
Coming out of the half, the Armada continued to stay aggressive on the attack. While rushing down the right side in the 49th minute, Burke was taken out by Paul Black, who received a yellow card for his tackle.
Just one minute later, Alex Andersson fed Eloundou in the right edge of the box. Eloundou dashed down the right side, used a cut back to evade a defender and ripped his shot into the top left corner of the goal.
In Meola’s eyes, Andersson was the star of the team on the evening.
“Alex Andersson gives us so many options for guys to run off, he works his tail off and Charles (Eloundou) did a really good job tonight of running off of him, he said.”
Two minutes later, the RailHawks had the opportunity to equalize when a Paul Black run down the left side of the box led to a wide open header for Paul Shriver, but Shriver’s header slowly bounced and rolled to past the right side of the net.
After 11 minutes of the teams trading the ball back and forth, Eloundou fired another shot on goal, this time from the top left side of the box. This shot would not result in his third goal, though, as it flew straight into Fitzgerald's arms. Anderson would get his own opportunity two minutes later right in front of the net off a Pekka Lagerblom cross, but he could only muster a slow ground ball shot that rolled easily into Fitzgerald's arms.
Carolina leveled the game at two in the 68th minute when Steven Miller burst down the left side of the box and sent in a cross that connected with Omar Bravo’s head. Bravo pounded it past Lewis into the bottom left of the net.
The Armada caught a break in the 70th minute when da Luz received a second yellow card for a rough tackle on George, giving Jacksonville a man advantage.
The rest of the match had quick runs for both sides, but nothing would come of them. Pascal Millien and Andersson were able to connect a couple of times with good passes near the box, but no goals came of the efforts.
After the match, Eloundou knew that his performance was not only good for him, but also for the entire Armada attack going forward.
“The last few games, we don’t score too much,” Eloundou said. “Now, we have a chance to score, so we just keep doing the same thing. Every game now we have the chance to score one, two, three, four goals.”
After the result, Burke shared his belief that the team is headed in the right direction.
“At the end of the day, the record is not good," he said. "But every game is new, starts 0-0 every game, so it’s another chance to get out there and turn this ship around. We’re going to try to use this momentum and keep going.”
Meola channeled that same positivity after the match.
“All in all, certainly a step in the right direction for us,” Meola said. “Proud of them for battling back and getting back in it and we gave ourselves a chance. Now we’ve got to start picking up three points along the way.”
The Armada will return to action at 5 p.m. next Saturday with a road tilt against Ottawa Fury FC.