JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After five matches, the Jacksonville Armada remain unbeaten and atop the North American Soccer League standings. Saturday, they need a result to stay in first place as they host the New York Cosmos at 7 p.m. at UNF's Hodges Stadium.
Under head coach Mark Lowry, the Armada have won two and drawn three to open the season. One of those draws came on April 22 when J.C. Banks scored a second half goal to earn Jacksonville a 1-1 draw in Brooklyn against the Cosmos.
The Armada enter the weekend with with nine points, one better than four teams, including the Cosmos, making the match the most pivotal of the Spring Season so far.
"We're not going to be scared. We're ready to get a 'W' this time," forward Derek Gebhard said. "It would be massive. We want to start pulling away."
In their first season playing at Hodges Stadium as a home pitch, the Armada have adapted to a larger playing surface which seems to have played into their favor. In three home matches, the Armada have conceded only one goal.
"As players, we really enjoy the field," defender Kalen Ryden said. "The fans have shown out and given us a good atmosphere and we remain unbeaten."
The Cosmos, who won the NASL championship in 2016 and are again contending for the title.
The game also marks Lowry's return to the sideline. He was suspended for last week's match against Indy Eleven after being sent off following Banks' equalizing goal against the Cosmos. He will be h
"It was a different experience. You always feel a bit disconnected when you aren't on the field," Lowry said. "It's always nice to be down there and be connected to the game.
Like Jacksonville, New York has won twice, but unlike the undefeated Armada, the Cosmos have one loss on their ledger. The Armada have only once beaten the Cosmos. That was a 1-0 win in 2015 when Tommy Krizanovic scored the game winner. Still, despite New York's success against the Armada, the Cosmos said they are expecting a battle on Saturday.
"It's going to be a tough game," Cosmos captain Danny Szetela said. "Jacksonville is a good team, they're very organized. We're going to have to make sure we prepare and be organized in the sense that we finish opportunities."
Of the three potential results - win, lose or draw - the Armada could find themselves still in first place or as low as fifth. To say the least, it is a pivotal match and a home win over the defending champions would send a message to the rest of the league and solidify Jacksonville's growing confidence.
"It would be massive for us," forward Jonathan Glenn said. "It would really cement ourselves at the top and give us a good backbone to build on the rest of the season."