Jacksonville (0W-1D-1L, 1 point) looks to snap a five-match winless streak while coming off its first franchise loss against Puerto Rico FC last Saturday. In a matchup of the league’s two youngest rosters, the Armada face off against North Carolina FC (1W-1D-1L, 4 pts) in Cary, North Carolina. There will be plenty on the table as Jax searches for its first fall win against a NCFC squad that dealt the Armada its first loss of 2017 and snapped its 14-game undefeated streak on May 13. A combined seven goals in the first two meetings in the spring means defense will be at a premium for the winning side. Both victories have come for the home team in 2017. Jax returns home next week after back-to-back road matches. But the focus is on North Carolina FC, who sits in a tie for first in the fall table, because they have to be feeling good as they are still the only NASL squad that has never dropped a match to Miami FC. Saturday’s match from Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3 and CW17. Listen to the action on FM 97.3 and FM 106.9.
- Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell has been so important to this club it’s not even funny. He holds the best goals against average (0.8 in the North American Soccer League, and without him Saturday it easily could have been 3-nil PRFC at half. We read his new blog on the Armada website, and you should too. The squad needs more ways to connect like this. Charles Eloundou subbed in last Saturday in the 61st minute while much of the energy in the final 30 minutes. Refresh your memory with last week’s post-game recap.
- North Carolina is tied atop the table – with four points – alongside San Francisco and Puerto Rico. So far this fall, NCFC owns a 1-1 home draw with Puerto Rico and a 3-2 road win in Miami last Saturday. Handing Miami FC only its second home loss of 2017 is very impressive. And North Carolina has not lost to Miami in three matches this season. For NCFC they have an advantageous stretch as the Armada match begins the first of four of the next five matches at WakeMed. They have the skill to be in the top-three for most of the fall. It is almost a guarantee they will run a 4-4-1-1 with Nazmi Albadawi (#10) leading the charge. But, North Carolina has allowed a league-high 101 shots on target this year.
- Both meetings in the spring season were victories by the home teams. NCFC took the May 13 match 3-1 even though the Armada took an early 1-0 lead. Jacksonville hosted the second meeting two weeks later on May 28, a 2-1 Armada victory. That match at Hodges Stadium gave the Armada its first-ever three-game match win streak in franchise history. That will be one of a few bulletin board points North Carolina has looked at leading into Saturday. We will have three gentlemen playing against their former sides: Brian Shriver, now with the Armada, and two guys who made Jacksonville home for awhile with Jonathan Glenn and Danny Barrow. The three were involved in a two-for-one trade on July 28.
- In the last four road matches, the Armada have three losses and one draw. We are sure you remember quite well the 4-1 slaughter of Indy Eleven on June 10 (We all do). That was also the last time Jax scored more than one goal in a single game, a stretch now of seven in a row for the Armada. In their last seven, the Armada have found the back of the net only three times. NCFC keeper Brian Slyvestre leads the NASL with 72 saves. He and Patterson-Sewell are two of the five GKs to start in at least 15 matches in the spring season.
- Obviously a loss or draw in North Carolina would keep Jacksonville as one of the bottom two in the NASL. Do we see Tony Taylor and Brian Shriver begin to gel in their second starts for the Blue and Gold? … The Armada will be without defender Peabo Doue, sent off with a red in Puerto Rico … Gladly it won’t be nearly as hot and humid as it was last week in Puerto Rico or like it was for the Jax-NCFC meeting over Memorial Day … Who will be the spark plug sub this week? Will it be Charles Eloundou or maybe Derek Gebhard? Or does someone else have a strong final 25-30 minutes?
Prediction: North Carolina FC 2, Jax Armada 1