An improved second half attack was not enough to boost the Jacksonville Armada in a 1-0 loss to the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Carolina firmly controlled the first half, attempting seven shots to the Armada’s one and holding a 58.1-41.9 percent possession advantage. Jacksonville came out of halftime with a stronger edge and finished with six shots in the second half, including two on target.
“It was a game of two halves,” said Mark Lowry, Armada interim head coach. “I thought in the first half, we were too tentative going forward and defensively. It allowed the RailHawks just a second or two too much time on the ball. In the second half, we corrected some things tactically, which I felt made a difference. We created chances and started to player higher up the field.”
Perhaps the most crucial point in the match came in the 38th minute when the Armada’s starting goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo went down with a groin injury, prompting interim head coach to sub in backup Sean Lewis. The switch to the cold ’keeper played to Carolina’s advantage just minutes later.
Tiyi Shipalane put the RailHawks up 1-0 in the 44th minute when he took a long ball from Nazmi Albadawi and chipped it over the head of Armada goalkeeper Sean Lewis and into the back of the net. Lewis got caught off his line and was not able to chase the shot down.
Albadawi had another pass over the top of the Jacksonville backline in the 19th to former Armada forward Matt Fondy, who was waiting in front of the goal, but his attempt went wide left. Carolina had another prime scoring attempt in the 28th minute when James Marcelin had a clear look from the top center of the box, but his shot was off balance and went wide right.
The Armada’s best chance in the first half came in the 25th when Zach Steinberger pushed a through ball up ahead to Alhassane Keita, who had a look from an angle close to the goal, but he was not able to get enough power behind his shot, making it an easy save for Carolina goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre.
Fondy had a good chance to extend Carolina’s lead in the 55th when he slipped Tyler Ruthven in the final third to gain a one-on-one with Lewis, but Ruthven recovered quickly and made a crucial sliding tackle on Fondy to stop the advance.
The Armada (2-4-6, 10 pts. NASL Fall, 3-8-11, 17 pts. NASL Combined) came close to finding the equalizer in the 69th minute when Albadawi conceded a foul just outside of the box. Keita took the set piece, with his initial attempt bouncing off the RailHawks’ wall, but the rebound met his swift kick, sending the ball through the jam of defenders toward the goal. But Sylvestre was able to dive and get to the ball at the right time.
Charles Eloundou, who subbed on in the 66th minute, delivered Jacksonville’s closest chance in the 71st when he started a counterattack at midfield and pushed the ball to the edge of the box before dishing it to a trailing Zach Steinberger for a clear look. But Steinberger’s attempt went inches wide.
Albadawi continued to give the Armada fits down the stretch with a pair of close-range attempts at the goal in the 81st and 90th, but Lewis made impressive saves each time.
Jacksonville had a furious finish in the final minute of stoppage time when Eloundou blasted a shot from the top of the box that was blocked, bounced around in the box and trickled out to Beto Navarro, whose last gasp shot was blocked. Seconds later, the final whistle blew to end the Armada’s comeback attempt.
Lucas Scaglia, who was voted the Farah and Farah Man of the Match by fans, finished with seven tackles and won seven duels while being accurate on 42 of his 51 passes.