JACKSONVILLE, Fle. - After opening the season with a 1-1 draw against Miami FC, the Jacksonville Armada will play their first home match of 2018 as they open U.S. Open Cup play Sunday at 7 p.m. against The Villages SC at JU's Southern Oak Stadium.
The U.S. Open Cup, which is in its 105th year, is the oldest soccer competition in North America, and includes teams from all divisions of professional soccer and allows amateur teams to qualify into the tournament.
With the Armada playing in the NPSL this year, there is an added enticement for the team playing in the U.S. Open Cup.
"We know that if we win these games, the next four weeks are going to be very busy," said head coach Mark Lowry. "(Beyond that), you start to pull MLS teams into the mix and it gets exciting for the players and the fans and you start to get a really good feeling about what we're doing here."
The Armada opened their first season in the NPSL Saturday with a draw on the road at Miami and the team is not scheduled to play a league fixture at home until June 2. However, if they advance in the US Open Cup, they could host other matches down the road. Two wins in Cup play will earn them a home match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, of the USL, a former NASL rival of the club.
"This year has to have a meaning. It has to have a purpose," Lowry said. "To make the most of it is to keep moving forward, somehow. We have a lot of quality in this group. Even though we've dropped down a league, we have to keep moving forward. If we can do that by making a good run in the Open Cup, that's what we're going to do."
If the Armada beat The Villages SC, of the Premier Development League, they would advance to face SIMA Agulias of the PDL.
Admission to the match is free. Because the match is at JU, not UNF's Hodges Stadium where the Armada play their home matches, players are hoping there will still be a home field advantage.
"We have trained there a couple of times already," said forward Derek Gebhard. "The field itself is really awesome, so that helps."
Midfielder J.C. Banks, who played in the U.S. Open Cup for Jacksonville last year, said he is approaching the match as any other, but knows that advancing in the tournament can send a strong message.
"It could mean something to other people," Banks said. "Us in the locker room, we're focused on winning each game that we have. We don't know how many games we'll have this year, so ultimately, every game matters."
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