Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Full-Speed Pace Fuels Armada; Expansion Team Tough at Home, Rises to Second in League Standings

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Full-Speed Pace Fuels Armada; Expansion Team Tough at Home, Rises to Second in League Standings

Article excerpt

Byline: Clayton Freeman

Expansion teams are supposed to struggle. But nobody told the Jacksonville Armada.

With last week's 1-0 victory over the Indy Eleven, the Armada fired up the engine room, launching from ninth to second in the 11-team North American Soccer League standings.

A first-place finish in the 10-game spring season would clinch a place in November's four-team Soccer Bowl, which will also include the champion of the fall season and the two other teams with the best overall records.

Even if the Armada can't reel in the first-place New York Cosmos, who field a pair of past Spanish international stars in former Real Madrid forward Raul and midfielder Marcos Senna, the club can drive toward one of the other playoff spots.

Now, can the Armada keep it up?

"It's a 10-game season, and they understand that every game is very important," goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo said. "So when you lose two games in a row, you can be at the bottom of the table, but if you win two, you can be at the top."

The team hasn't done it the easy way.

The Armada has taken health risks (signing Jaime Castrillon and Marcos Flores coming off major injuries) and tactical risks (using four strikers at the expense of defensive security).

"On our team, everybody attacks and everybody defends. We just defend in different forms. That is something that as a team we have to continue growing on," co-coach Guillermo Hoyos said through a translator after Saturday's game.

On the injury front, to use an analogy straight from the Baseball Grounds, they're batting .500.

Castrillon, sidelined with a bone bruise to his foot, hasn't been able to showcase the skills of his Colombian national team days.

Flores, on the other hand, has grown in confidence, using his assortment of tricks to connect with Jemal Johnson, Pascal Millien and lethal finisher Alhassane Keita.

So far, the Armada swept three home games while losing both road contests. …

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