JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Armada U-23 will open the post-season Wednesday evening with something to prove.
Despite a regular season that resulted in 11 wins, no losses and one draw, the best record of the 95 teams in the National Premier Soccer League, the Armada U-23s still remember how last year ended.
Despite being the top seed in the region, Jacksonville lost to New Orleans in the first round, ending their season.
“The expectation was obviously there,” said Armada head coach Tommy Krizanovic. “The goals were set, by the players. I think the greatest thing about this group is 90% of the players that that wanted to come back came back and play for this group. And, and, yeah, this is where we’re exactly where we wanted to be and expected to be.”
Krizanovic is a longtime fixture on the Jacksonville soccer scene. Born in Croatia, he moved to Jacksonville and played soccer at Englewood high school and then at Jacksonville University. After a stint in MLS and some time in Germany, Krizanovic returned to Jacksonville in 2011 and in 2015 signed with the Armada during their time in the North American Soccer League.
Now, he’s guiding the U-23 squad while Armada owner Robert Palmer weighs the next step for the club.
Krizanovic, team president and general manager Nathan Walter and assistant coach Jemal Johnson all serve as a link to the club’s days in the NASL, an important piece of the connection to Jacksonville’s professional soccer landscape.
“I think it is important,” Krizanovic said. “You look at the landscape of Jacksonville soccer and you identify like-minded people that really try to do what’s best for the game here. “We are all in this for the same reasons. And that reason is to provide a pathway for players to be able to achieve all the goals that they want to achieve.”
Of the 30 players on the Armada roster, half of them have a Jacksonville connection, either by high school or college. But do they know about Krizanovic’s playing days?
“They sometimes joke about it,” Krizanovic said. “I think there’s a there’s mutual respect from my side and their side. They certainly know about it, sometimes they bring up old photos of me and talking about that, like, , ‘This is this is what Coach used to look like.’ I think being able to also be on the field and talk about the things but also show them that, hey, this is how we can do it. And this is how we do it helps because I think then hearing it and seeing it there can be two different things.”
Wednesday’s playoff game is scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m. at Jangro Stadium at The Episcopal School of Jacksonville. Tickets are free but must be reserved online in advance.