JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A clean slate is the best way to describe how the Armada are heading into Sunday’s season opener against FC Edmonton. Fans who make the trip to Hodges Stadium for the 4 p.m. start or who decide to watch locally on THIS TV, won’t recognize many of the names on the roster.
Less than 10 players from last year’s team remain and 75-80% of the players are new. That unique opportunity has given Armada head coach Mark Lowry the ability to build a system that fits the roster. It’s also led to increased competition during training sessions.
“Everyone has come in fighting for their place,” said Lowry. “There was no starting 11 on the first day of preseason. It was a group of 18-20 individuals, each fighting to be in that 11 come the first game of the season. That creates a healthy environment. It has to be competitive every day. It has to be demanding every day. It has to be challenging every day. That’s how we get better.”
During the 2016 season, Ottawa Fury FC was the only team that was below the Armada in the table. Midfielder Jemal Johnson is one of the few holdovers from last year’s club and feels the new additions will lead to better results.
“Training sessions have been a lot more intense,” said Johnson. “I feel like the players we’ve brought in have really had a positive impact on all the players that were here last year. We’re definitely prepared and focused.”
Last Saturday the Armada overcame an early deficit to tie the Charlotte Independence 2-2. That left the Armada undefeated in the preseason with a record of 2W-0L-5D.
“Winning games becomes a habit and losing games becomes a habit unfortunately,” said Lowry. “Now we’ve gone through a few games without losing. It creates a bit of confidence in the group. It matures the group and we’ve found a way to win even we haven’t played well at times. We’re not going to play well every game.”
The NASL spring season opened last weekend. Sunday’s game will be the season opener for both the Armada and FC Edmonton.