The monkey is officially off the Jacksonville Armada’s back.
For the first time in its 26th try, the Armada won on the road, defeating Ottawa Fury FC 2-1 on Saturday at TD Place Stadium to snap an NASL record 25-match winless streak away from Jacksonville.
Alhassane Keita put the ball in the back of the net twice, with the second one in dramatic fashion, to lift a huge weight off the team’s shoulders.
It could not have come at a better time. In the midst of a six-game winless streak overall, interim head coach Mark Lowry, in his first contest at the helm of Jacksonville, energized his fleet all week and inspired them to play the match like their life depended on it.
“I’m feeling happy for the whole club; it’s been a long time coming,” Lowry said. “These players have worked hard all season, and today I think they got the rewards they haven’t been getting. With the (coaching) transition we’ve had, it’s tough on the guys. I’m proud of the way they responded. They know they’re building toward something.”
The Armada (2W-2D-5L, 8 pts. NASL Fall, 3-6-10 Combined) had a strong hold on the first half’s pace, with a 64.5 to 35.5 percent possession advantage and put three shots on target. From the opening touch, Jacksonville was a side on a mission and put the pressure on Ottawa.
Pascal Millien got down to business in the 6th minute when his shot in front of the goal off a Jemal Johnson cross caused Fury FC goalkeeper Romuald Peiser to make a diving save. Peiser founding himself flying through the air just two minutes later when Armada midfielder Zach Steinberger crushed a shot from distance, but Peiser was able to make the stop.
Ottawa, known for its defensive, counterattacking style, did just that in the 26th minute when Fury FC forward Danny Mwanga sparked a breakaway off an interception from Nicklas Maripuu at midfield. Mwanga then dribbled it down into the box and crossed it for a charging Carl Haworth, who put it in the back of the net.
Despite the moment of despair, the Armada did not fold. Off a throw-in, the Armada smoothly pushed the ball forward to Johnson just outside of the box. Johnson then slid a through ball to Keita, who knocked it home for the equalizer in the 28th minute.
Fury FC (3-0-5, 9 pts. NASL Fall, 5-3-10 18 pts. Combined) snapped back in the second half and put together multiple chances. Haworth had a clear look in front of the goal in the 60th that look like a sure go-ahead chance, but Armada defender Tyler Ruthven stepped in and cleared it out. Haworth had another sure thing in the 69th on the right edge of the goal off a Maxim Tissot cross, but Armada defender Anthony Wallace swiped it away from Haworth.
It looked as if it would be tough for the Armada to break through with a side content with putting all its players behind the ball, but Jacksonville stayed resilient. It paid off in the 87th when Johnson sent in a cross for Keita, who headed it over a slew of players and past an outstretched Peiser.
The Armada continued to hold on the rest of the way and cleared away each Fury FC advance to preserve the win.