On the heels of the final spring season match in the 2017 NASL season, Michael Carney looks at the Jacksonville Armada’s surprising season with Section 904 Capo and writer for Flagship Footy, Logan Alexander. Indy Eleven hosts the Armada at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
MC: First, what is the latest on the league and the Armada finding a new ownership group?
LA: The latest story on ownership is that there is a group, but they are working on being jersey sponsors first and then diving into ownership. Four guys from this one said company are leading the charge including the Chief Strategy Officer of the company. High up people from the company are involved and there is plenty of interest in Jacksonville Armada FC. The deal will strike sooner or later, just waiting games at the moment.
MC: The Armada moved their home matches from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, converting the dirt diamond to soccer turf, to Hodges Stadium on the University of North Florida campus this year. What are your overall impressions of Hodges Stadium and has this been a better game day experience for the Armada fans and players?
LA: The field at Hodges Stadium is strictly soccer and there is a track that surrounds the field that plays host to NCAA Track and Field tournaments. The university does not have a football team, making soccer the only sport using the field. The venue is world class, I know the players love it, and the fans are enjoying it as well. For the players, the field is not patchy grass laid down on a baseball diamond. There is less risk of injury and it is a very smooth surface to play on. The change has been well received for both the players and fans and until stadium discussions linger around the city, the stadium is a solid option. The only problem is ticket prices, but that’s another story for a different time.
MC: A lot of people, myself included, picked Jacksonville to finish last this season. Yet, Mark Lowry and company have put a team together that is not only competing, but had a chance of winning the spring title. What do you contribute to Jacksonville’s remarkable spring season?
LA: I think the key contribution to the success of Jacksonville Armada is the manager. We’ve endured plenty of hardships the past two years but one thing you could notice about the team is that they were not locked in and trustworthy of their manager. This year is completely different. We haven’t had funds like other clubs, the budget has been very tight. The manager has dinners and assists in cooking meals, he helps in doing laundry of the uniforms etc. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that people do not see and this has led to a strong bond between player and manager. Tactically, Lowry knows the job he has taken on. He speaks heavily on consistent lineups and an attacking mindset behind possession. Mark also has prior coaching experience with Orlando City albeit, this is his first gig as a manager of a professional team. He’s young, energetic, and is constantly prepared.
On another note, players that were brought in during transfer season have been quality. JC Banks, Aaron Pitchkolan, and Jack Blake are three ex-Minnesota United players that understand a winning mentality and high expectations. Wins are all that they came by while in Minnesota. The defense has been solidified with the return of Mechak Jerome and the midfield is absolute class with the Trinidad and Tobago international, Kevan George. The only question mark is the striker position and obtaining a consistent goal scorer, though there are no plans to sign anyone else this year, so that problem will have to sort itself. All in all, the manager is high quality, transfers brought in have performed exceptionally, and people are excited here in Jacksonville.
MC: Zach Steinberger is a player soccer fans in Indianapolis keep a close eye on since his days with the Butler Bulldogs. But since being drafted in the MLS Steinberger has wondered the professional ranks with the Houston Dynamo, on-loan with Indy Eleven, and on-loan to the Armada. But since he has signed a permanent deal to stay with the Armada he is having a break out year. What do you think has attributed to Steinberger’s success this year?
LA: Zach has been exceptional but I think the reason he is having such a breakout year in 2017 is due to the fact that he is the focal point in the team. He is not a captain but the players rely heavily on him and look up to him. Steinberger is THE leader on and off of the field for Jacksonville and when he can consistently produce like he has this season, it’s tough not to buy into the hype. As well as being a leader for others on the team, he runs the offensive side of the ball and not many attacks at the opponent’s defense happen without the attacking midfielder.
This all being said, Zach is motivated. He was not in anyone’s plans at Houston Dynamo and I think psychologically he is triggered and knows there is worth to him that he has got to prove. So far, Zach is exceeding expectations. At this rate, he could find himself on an MLS squad next year if he continues to produce. We all hope the best for him and every player on this team. There is a massive respect from us as fans for these guys in Armada shirts. They could have played anywhere in the world but came to an owner less club at the start of the season, not knowing if they will have a club by the end of the year. For that, and for the performances that have been put in, we are ever so proud and hope good things come from what we have accomplished this year.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: TREVOR RUSZKOWSKI