Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plenty of Changes for Armada; Hall of Famer Meola Is in Charge as NASL Team Starts Second Season

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plenty of Changes for Armada; Hall of Famer Meola Is in Charge as NASL Team Starts Second Season

Article excerpt

Byline: Clayton Freeman

Voyage number two for the Jacksonville Armada begins Sunday, with a big-name captain at the helm.

A last-place 2015 campaign brought big changes on and off the field for 2016, with more than a dozen new players joining the crew under a first-year head coach in U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame goalkeeper Tony Meola.

Here's what fans can expect when the Armada opens the North American Soccer League campaign this weekend.

GOALKEEPING

The rotation system of 2015? Thrown overboard. This time, Miguel Gallardo looks set to enter as the established starter.

Gallardo's eventful opening season produced some memorable moments, both great (an unforgettable leaping save against Minnesota) and not so great (a failed 45-yard charge that allowed an empty-net goal in Tampa Bay).

While he still enjoys having the ball at his feet, Gallardo seems to have toned down his venturesome approach a bit in preseason. That's likely good news for Armada fans who watched his heart-stopping charges from the goal line in 2015.

Gallardo's vocal leadership will be a key to organizing a defense that's been radically rebuilt.

Sebastian Evers and newcomer Sean Lewis are ready to back up if needed.

They said it: "If we're chasing the game, we obviously have to push the lines forward, and the goalkeeper has to play a little bit higher. Initially, we're going to play a little bit more conservative, but that doesn't mean that we don't attack." - Gallardo

DEFENSE

It's an extreme makeover, Armada style.

After last season's defensive debacle, the club has overhauled the back line and changed the tactics. The plan is to make sure last year's woes, when the Armada frequently got swamped on the counterattack, don't recur.

Despite the more conservative approach, newcomer Bryan Burke will still sprint upfield along the right wing, and Mechack Jerome, who improved the defense after signing in September, can fire cannon shots from anywhere inside 40 yards.

Meola tinkered with using three center backs early in preseason, but seems to have settled on a four-man line. That would leave one starting spot for either Tyler Ruthven and Beto Navarro, both offseason additions, next to Jerome in the center.

Matt Bahner, one of just two defenders left from the start of 2015, can play all across the defense as a valuable wild card. Guam national team member Shawn Nicklaw and Patrick Otte fill in on the outside.

They said it: "We wanted to stay more compact, more organized. That was definitely a goal from the get-go. That was something we worked on from week one, and it's something we've continued to grow on." - Bahner.

MIDFIELD

The Armada needed an anchor and got one.

The acquisition of Richie Ryan, named to the league's Best XI as Ottawa reached the NASL final in 2015, should immediately upgrade the midfield with a jolt of intensity, firm tackling and crisp passing. …

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