Saturday marks the beginning of the NASL season. While FC Edmonton is used to starting their season in Florida, they will be in a new location. The Eddies will be guest to the Jacksonville Armada in their inaugural match. Jacksonville is a club that has been doing everything right off the field. They have created a solid following and have a season ticket base higher than most other teams in the league can average in total attendance. Ownership has done an amazing job creating hype around the city. Almost too much, as ticket demand has forced them out of what is supposed to be their regular home at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and into the massive EverBank Field. Home of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, it’s safe to say it is a premier stadium that any soccer team would love to play in. And with the expected turnout, it’s likely the Armada will claim the modern NASL record for single game attendance. It makes nice headlines, but 16,000 is still going to look tiny in a 70,000 seat stadium.
The record may just be the lone bright spot on this upcoming season though. The easiest way to predict Jacksonville’s on field success is to look at the last two expansion clubs. The current holder of the single game attendance record is the Ottawa Fury and their 2014 season was a rough one for them. The Indy Eleven have created maybe even more hype off field than the Armada, but only got their first win in October last season (their 24th match out of 27). Jacksonville has opted to create a team that lacks much NASL or MLS experience, and that may be their demise. It’s hard for players not used to the North American game to adjust to the travel, swings in temperature and the different pitches and artificial turfs. It won’t be a problem in game 1, but it’s worth noting as the season wears on.
The game plan for FC Edmonton should be to play a boring, defensive game that doesn’t give up many chances that counters when the Armada make a mistake. This shouldn’t be a problem, as it’s been a very familiar style of play for the Eddies. Edmonton typically starts their season in Florida and gets off to a slow start, but things should be different this year. They have been in Jacksonville for a few weeks already and even managed to play a couple preseason matches at EverBank Field. If anything, Jacksonville is starting to feel like home for them.
As for who to expect in the starting eleven, look at Matt Van Oekel to get the first start. He hasn’t allowed a goal in preseason and was brought in for his ability to distribute the ball. I’d expect to see Kareem Moses start at left back, where he saw a lot of time towards the end of 2014. Steady Eddie Edward should play at his familiar right back position. Albert Watson should be healthy and get the start in the middle alongside Mallan Roberts. In the midfield, Colin Miller frequently used a diamond formation throughout last season and I’d expect the same to start 2015. Ritchie Jones likely comes in as the holding midfielder with his experience and ability to distribute the ball. MVP Lance Laing will be on the left wing where he turned out to be an offensive force last year. Newcomer Oskar Hauksson could start in the middle behind the strikers as the coaching staff has liked what he has shown in the preseason training. As for who plays on the right, it’s a bit of a mystery but my best guess says newcomer Johann Smith gets the call. His pace on the wing is meant to be a direct replacement of Horace James. Up front, expect Tomi Ameobi to be the main target man with Daryl Fordyce playing a bit behind him. That combination seemed to pay dividends.
While the game may be one sided to watch, expect a close score. The Eddies will hang back, keep possession and be content with a 1-nil score.