Armada owner may change face of soccer in America

Robert Palmer's 'Division Zero' approach could change the sport's structure

Jacksonville Armada owner Robter Palmer (center) cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the Armada store in the St. Johns Town Center.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The ribbon cutting was just a backdrop.

While the ceremony marking the grand opening of the Jacksonville Armada FC store at the St. Johns Town Center included such dignitaries as Jax Chamber president Daniel Davis and city councilman Scott Wilson, most of the talk centered around the 2018 season for the Armada and the crossroads at which the club, and others, finds itself with an uncertain future facing the North American Soccer League.

Palmer, who purchased the team four months before the NASL was relegated to third-division status, isn't sitting around waiting for the next step in the league's lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Instead, he convened a group to discuss a "Division Zero" approach to soccer in America.

"I am a problem solver," Palmer said. "When something is broken, I can’t rest until I feel like it's fixed. I am going to do whatever I can to lead this charge for community-based pro soccer."

What Palmer is promoting is what he calls community-based soccer for lower divisions--basically a chance for an amateur team to move up the ranks.

"This is a huge market need. There are hundreds of clubs that this is what they want," Palmer said. "I’m not going to argue whether we are ready of not for pro/rel (promotion-relegation) right now in America, but we are ready for a path for these community-based teams to make the transition from amateur to pro. It's time to get out of the way of that and let that happen. I'm going to help be a driving force of that."

Palmer said that the Armada will play in the NASL if the league survives the legal fight in tact. The start of the season was pushed back to August. If the NASL does not return, Palmer wants to have an alternative option in place. That could mean a new league run with principals not seen in the United States previously.



In the meantime, the Armada will play in the NPSL, with six home matches and six away matches. The club used the ribbon cutting as an opportunity to roll out their season ticket plan--6 matches for $60. There is also a preseason match against Major League Soccer's D.C. United on Wednesday in Clearwater, and Palmer said that the club is looking to add matches against other international teams, including, potentially, some against English Premier League clubs. Those matches would likely be played in the summer, in the EPL offseason.

For the time being, the Armada is bringing in as many good players as they can. Because so many players who played in the NASL are in limbo, and because the Armada knows they will play in the spring in the NPSL, there has been opportunity for the club to add some quality veterans, like Yuma and Connor Doyle, both of whom played with Puerto Rico FC last season. 

"The climate, unfortunately, has left a lot of guys without a place to play," head coach Mark Lowry said. "We're at a place that we can offer them a home. We can offer them a quality training environment and we can offer them a future. It might not be something that happens in the next few weeks, but in the next few years, we can offer them a place to play football."