Armada stifles potent United attack in scoreless draw


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Under the rays of the hot Florida sun, the Jacksonville Armada and Minnesota United battled hard but could not best one another and played to a scoreless draw Saturday afternoon at Community First Park.

The result extended Jacksonville’s (3W-3D-5L, 10 pts. NASL Fall, 3-8-10, 17 pts.) unbeaten streak to four games. It was also the Armada’s second clean sheet of the season.

“I thought defensively, we were fantastic,” said Mark Lowry, Armada interim head coach. “And it shows on the clean sheet.”

With a reading of 93 degrees at kickoff that would slowly rise as the afternoon progressed, which was underscored by three separate water breaks, it was evident the contest would have to be played at a conservative pace.

“(The heat) massively affected how both teams lined up,” Lowry said. “We like to press high, they like to press high, and you didn’t see much of that today. That’s clearly because of the heat. We felt that if we had come flying out of the gates, maybe after 20, 30 minutes, we would have run out of gas.”

Although it was not the optimal result for the Armada at home, Jacksonville had to come away with a positive feeling after making league-leading goal scorer Christian Ramirez a non-factor, holding the forward to just three shots.

“I think we’ve got some good defenders back there,” said Mark Lowry, Armada interim head coach. “Tyler (Ruthven) and Mechack (Jérôme) in my opinion are two of the best center backs in the league. In front of them, we had a well-organized midfield with Kevan (George), (Nicklas) Maripuu, JJ (Jemal Johnson) and Charles (Eloundou). It enabled us to control good portions of the game.”

The only shot on target for the entire match came in the form of a relatively tame attempt by Ibson from the edge of the box in the 28th minute that was easily punched away by Armada goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo.

Lowry said the game plan was to stay tight in the first half and start to expand in the second half and play more direct.

“The game plan worked, it was just missing that final goal,” Lowry said.

For much of the first half, it was a game of wait-and-see for each side. For the Armada, it was possess the ball and wait-and-see if it could find gaps to push through. For United, it was wait-and-see if it could take advantage of an Armada turnover and counter. Jacksonville held the ball for the first part of the first half before Minnesota went on a run with chances before heading into the locker room.

Johnson had the Armada’s first chance of the match in the 20th minute when forward Alhassane Keita flipped the ball over, but Johnson’s attempt was taken off balance, and he was not able to get an optimal handle on it, which sent the ball soaring wide of the goal.

After Ibson’s attempt in the 28th was safely thwarted by Gallardo, Lance Laing had a dangerous cross a minute later punched out by Gallardo. Just moments later, Laing served Ramirez with a cross directly in front of the goal, but Ramirez missed getting a foot on it by inches and the ball went wide.

The Armada took its game of keep away to the next level in the second half, holding the ball 63 percent of the time and completing 276 passes. Jacksonville finished with an impressive 91.6 percent passing accuracy clip and had 501 total passes.

After a stalemate for much of the second half, Jacksonville got its big break in the 77th when Ibson was shown a red card for a high kick that connected with George. Although it led to quality chances by Johnson in the 85th minute and Jérôme in the 87th, Minnesota stood fast and resisted each Armada advance.

Jacksonville will have a rest next weekend before returning to action at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3 at the Carolina RailHawks.