JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Jacksonville Armada players and head coach Mark Lowry are calling Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies the most important match of the season.
Since the Armada are playing this season in the National Premier Soccer League, considered a lower division than last year's North American Soccer League, the chance to prove themselves against clubs in the United Soccer League and Major League Soccer is especially important.
"We want an avenue this year to have some success," said head coach Mark Lowry. "We also want to win the NPSL, but having a longer run in the Open Cup could make the season more successful than we originally thought it was going to be. And second, it gives us more games. The NPSL is a short season. This is a way to find quality games and add five or six more games to your schedule."
The Armada advanced to the second round to face their former NASL Rivals, and a former teammate, Jack Blake, who led the Armada in goals last year and is now with Tampa Bay. Because the Armada took a step down in leagues with the postponement of the NASL season, they still want to prove that they are a club on par with second-division teams like the USL's Rowdies.
"I was talking about it with my family the other day, it's probably the most important game for me since I came here to America," said forward Ciarán Kilduff. "The Open Cup is a priority this year. For this group, we deserve a good Cup Run. We've worked harder than any club in the country. The Open Cup is the light at the end of the tunnel for us to go, 'Yeah, we can still match up with the top teams, and we're going to show that (Wednesday) night.'"
The Armada beat The Villages SC in the play-in round of the U.S. Open Cup, 2-1. Then, in the first round, Jacksonville topped SIMA Aguilas 2-0 to earn a date with the Rowdies. It's a matchup the team has been pointing to for several weeks.
"It's massive. I think once we got into the Open Cup, it was like, this is the game we want to get to," said midfielder Conor Doyle, who scored one of the Jacksonville goals against SIMA Aguilas. "I've played my fair share of Open Cup games the past few years, to get on these cup runs is really fun and to win it once was pretty cool."
Doyle was on loan to D.C. United in 2013 when the MLS side won their third U.S. Open Cup.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Jacksonville University's Southern Oak Stadium. Tickets are $10.