JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s been a while.
On Thursday, the Jacksonville Armada will play in the U.S. Open Cup for the first time since 2018. They’ll host Miami United FC at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.
It’s a game of significance for the Armada, who, if they keep winning in the tournament, can face teams in higher leagues even as they prepare for their season in the NPSL.
The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest soccer tournament in the United States and it is open to all amateur and professional clubs who qualify. This year, the Armada opens play in the first round with a potential second-round matchup with Miami FC of the second-tier USL Championship waiting in round two.
Head coach Tommy Krizanovic played in US Open Cup games with the Armada in his playing days, and he knows how special these games can be.
“I think I’m really living through the excitement of the players that get to make this experience,” Krizanovic said. “The players that are younger, the players that are older, that mix of the group that we have put together for this event. But then also the fan base in the community that gets to come out and watch a high-level game again.”
One of the biggest challenges for Krizanovic is to determine which players should comprise the match-day roster. With the college players who would comprise the Armada U-23 squad during the summer ineligible to play in the US Open Cup, he has called on some names that longtime Armada fans will find familiar.
“Charles Elondou is one name that they will definitely recognize. He’s in between contracts right now and we’ll see where this could lead and take him as well,” Krizanovic said. “(Former UNF star) Jay Bolt just finished up with the Charleston Batter. Jemal Johnson is definitely in the mix. We’ll see how tonight goes in preparation and we’ll have to try and figure out who is going to start tomorrow and roster tomorrow.”
🚨Attention Jacksonville Armada fans! Post a picture on social media of one of our billboards throughout Jacksonville. Use the hashtag #PrepareTheShips and tag us to win a custom Armada jersey with your name and number on the back! pic.twitter.com/pDpfEjsQSp— Jacksonville Armada FC (@JaxArmadaFC) March 21, 2023
With the NPSL schedule opening on April 30, Thursday’s game and the potential second-round matchup offer a chance for the coaching staff to get a jump on the season.
In the club’s history, the Armada has gone 2-3 in U.S. Open Cup matches but have never won more than one game in a tournament. In 2016, they entered the tournament in the third round and beat Charleston 2-1 on an extra time goal by Keita, the club’s all-time leading goal scorer. The following week they fell to Orlando City 1-0.
#TBT to our first victory in the @opencup! Who remembers Alhassane Keita’s goal to knock out the @Chas_Battery in extra time?— Jacksonville Armada FC (@JaxArmadaFC) February 16, 2023
⚓️Reserve your FREE tickets to the Armada’s US Open Cup homecoming using the link below⬇️ pic.twitter.com/urQeCGOnxq
The game also marks a return to UNF’s Hodges Stadium where the Armada called home during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
“We are delighted to play at Hodges Stadium,” Armada president Nathan Walter said in a statement. “We have an incredible relationship with the University of North Florida and we are thankful for their support and commitment to our club.”
Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance on Eventbrite.