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Armada battle Puerto Rico to 3-3 draw

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The Jacksonville Armada scored its most goals in a game this season and since Oct. 17, 2015, but Puerto Rico FC had an answer for each strike as Saturday night’s contest ended in a wild 3-3 draw at Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium.

Cameroonian striker Charles Eloundou had another standout night, finishing with a goal and an assist while consistently being a player PRFC had to keep tabs on. Eloundou was responsible for the Armada’s first and last goals, netting a strike in the 29th minute and assisting on Alhassane Keita’s 83rd minute goal.

Haitian center back Mechack Jérôme, who was named the Farah and Farah Man of the Match by fans, also found the back of the net on three shots and intercepted four passes.

PRFC (1W-8D-6L, 11 pts. NASL Fall, 1W-8D-6L, 11 pts. NASL Combined) wasted no time in establishing its home-field advantage and took a 1-0 lead in the third minute. The goal was sparked on the other end by goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg, who sent a long ball to Hector Ramos. Ramos then headed it to a charging Joseph Marrero just inside the box, who put it past Armada goalkeeper Sean Lewis.

Jacksonville (2-5-7, 11 pts. NASL Fall, 3-9-12, 18 pts. NASL Combined) found the equalizer in the 29th minute when a long ball from midfielder Zach Steinberger to overlapping right back Matt Bahner on the wing was centered for Eloundou, who sent a rocket past Spangenberg to knot the score at 1-1.

The jubilation was short-lived, however, as PRFC retook the lead in the 33rd when Oliver Minatel took a through ball from Paulo Mendes at the top of the box and struck the bottom of the crossbar with his shot. The deflection caused the ball to drop straight down and carom into the back of the net.

Jérôme put his side back level in the 57th minute with another one of his trademark “Jerome Zone” kicks from distance. This time it was not a set piece however, as a corner kick by Bahner was cleared out by PRFC’s Cristiano Dias straight to Jérôme 25 yards out, who sent a rocket into the goal’s upper 90. Just two minutes later, he narrowly missed scoring again off a free kick from 30 yards out.

The Armada had another missed chance in the 62nd when Steinberger pushed the ball ahead on a counterattack and sent the ball in for Alex Dixon. The only object standing in Dixon’s way was Spangenberg, but his attempt was stopped when the flag went up to signify offside.

After succumbing to leg cramps, Dixon subbed out in the 78th minute for Alhassane Keita, which paid off in the 83rd when Keita scored the go-ahead goal. Eloundou swiped the ball from PRFC’s Chris Nurse in the attacking third and sent it over to Keita just outside of the box, who put it past Spangenberg with a curling shot to give Jacksonville a 3-2 lead.

PRFC swiftly answered in the 85th minute. Kyle Culbertson’s throw-in led Sidney Rivera to a clear look at the goal and allowed Rivera to fire a shot from the top left corner of the box into the goal, tying the contest at 3-3.

The teams continued to trade shots in the final minutes, with Keita taking two attempts and Jérôme taking one for the Armada. Lewis held firm for his side in the closing moments, punching out a dangerous cross and cradling a looping shot all while nursing a bloody nose sustained in a previous play.

It was the first time this season the Armada earned a positive result after trailing at halftime (previous record was 0-0-8) and first draw in September in club history.

The Armada will return home next Saturday to take on Rayo OKC at 7 p.m. ET. Presented by Metro PCS, it will be Hispanic Heritage Night at Community First Park.