NASL: Jacksonville Armada win Home Opener 2-1

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For Jacksonville Armada head coach Tony Meola and his team, Friday night could not have gone any better in the North American Soccer League (NASL)  home opener at Community First Park at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
A crowd of 5,112 watched a 2-1 win over expansion rival Miami FC. The teams combined for five yellow cards and 28 fouls in a battle that had fans on the edge of their seats until the final whistle sounded.
“(Our fans) are great here,” Meola said. “They were loud tonight as always. I think that will continue to grow as we get through to the summer. Hopefully we get some more wins and we build something here. They really helped us tonight.”
The Armada found the back of the net first in the 20th minute when Midfielder Junior Sandoval blasted a rocket from the top right corner of the box that Miami FC goalkeeper Daniel Vega swiped at but could not make contact. Earlier a Mechack Jerome free kick barely missed the goal.
“I saw the opening, took the shot and I was lucky enough for it to go in,” Sandoval said. “It feels good to get this first win. Now we’re going on the road again and hopefully get three points down (in Fort Lauderdale."
Miami FC set up a bottleneck of traffic in front of the Armada goal. The congestion helped Miami forward Dario Cvitanich find his mark on a header in the 26th after getting a feed from defender Adailton for the equalizer.
But in the 36th minute, the Armada’s second-leading goal scorer from 2015, Pascal Millien, put Jacksonville back up 2-1 when he slid in a bouncing shot from the top left of the box in heavy traffic.
“I was proud of them in the first half because the reality was it wasn’t going well in the first half but they rolled up their sleeves for 10 minutes when they had to,” Meola said. “That’s also important in soccer to do, so I’m really proud of the effort.”
Miami FC fell inches short of tying it in the 59th minute when Blake Smith one-timed it from the top left corner off a Jonathan Borrajo cross, but Armada goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo made diving save to keep his team on top. 
Moments later, Smith fired another blast that at first glance appeared that it had a chance to go in. But perhaps a stroke of luck made sure the ball did not cross the line as it hit both posts and rattled out just in time.
Jacksonville dominated the aerial battle, winning the ball in the air nearly 61 percent of the time and also held a 54-46 percent possession advantage.
Gallardo finished with three saves while Sandoval was vital to the attack, creating three chances and converting on 89.6 percent of his 67 passes.
With the win, the Armada moved to fourth on the NASL table and to the top of the Coastal Cup standings.
The Armada will return to action at 7 p.m. next Saturday when it heads south to take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Lockhart Stadium. 

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