Heat Turning Up on Armada FC

Photos by SE Sports Media

The Jacksonville Armada fell 2-0 against the Ottawa Fury on Saturday afternoon. It was another hot day in Florida, with a club record-tying high of 95 degrees at kickoff. The heat didn’t seem to deter the fans though, as 3,411 people found their way into Community First Park. With three scoreless defeats in a row, Tony Meola’s Armada needs to figure out a way to turn everything around in a hurry.

Saturday was also an introduction for three new Scandinavians in the Armada starting side. Midfielders Pekka Lagerblom (Finland) and Nicklas Maripuu (Sweden) made their first Armada start, along with forward Alex Andersson (Sweden). Lagerblom has been with the Armada since the season started, but has yet to play a game before Saturday due to injury problems. All three Europeans seemed to struggle to adjust to the heat and humidity of a summer afternoon in Florida.

“The toughest thing is the humidity,” Maripuu said after the game. “The air is so hard to breathe compared to Sweden where there is more fresh air and it’s not as hot. We’ll have to adjust, but we’re getting there.”

The game definitely seemed to wear on newly-introduced captain, Pekka Lagerblom, who had to be substituted off at half time. Lagerblom has been nursing injuries ever since arriving in Jacksonville this season, and it was unclear if that is what was giving him problems leading to his departure from the game.

“He couldn’t go anymore, he ran out of gas,” head coach Tony Meola stated when talking about Lagerblom after the game. “I didn’t come into the locker room (at halftime) expecting to make the change. We knew it was going to come at some point, I just didn’t know when.”

It seems that just a lack of match fitness, coupled with unfamiliar heat, ended the Swedish captain’s day early. Nicklas Maripuu stuck it out though, and earned himself the Man of the Match award in his first game in the Armada colors.

The Armada will need to turn things around quickly though, with a game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in South Florida this weekend. With only two wins all season (only one in the Fall season), Coach Meola is starting to feel the pressure and was obviously upset after Saturday’s loss.

“It was a poor performance all around,” Meola said after the game. “I take full responsibility. I take responsibility for every bad pass, every decision, every play, and every missed tackle. All on me.”

When asked what he will do to fix it, Meola showed his frustration again. “Listen, there’s really not much we can do. I wouldn’t change one scouting report, I wouldn’t change one tactic. It’s about executing plays. Period. End of story.”

It didn’t quite stop there though, as he touched on what seemed to be more than just a one game disappointment. “We’ve never come back to win a game.”

That was an astonishing statement, but true. The Armada have never come back to win a game this season. The team has also failed to score a goal in three consecutive games for the second time in 2016, only topped by a four match goal drought back in May. Although it has not happened yet, Meola knows what it takes to get it done. “That takes character. That takes heart. That takes sticking with the plan. That takes making plays.”

Meola was quick to respond when asked why exactly this team is not putting together those things.  “All those things are my fault.”

Armada fans can only hope something clicks with the new signings and the season can get back on the right track. It all starts this weekend against Fort Lauderdale, who have been in a slump themselves. The Strikers have lost five straight games, only scoring two goals in the process. If there was ever a must-win game for the Armada, this is it.

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Armada-Strikers is Saturday, July 30 at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FL at
7:00 pm. The match will air on CW17 and ESPN3.