By Pensacola FC
Pensacola was hosting Gulf Coast Conference leaders Jacksonville Armada FC U-23 at the Foley Sports Tourism Championship Stadium in Foley, Alabama. Jacksonville was looking to extend its cushion at the top, while Pensacola was looking for points to put them into playoff contention.
The game was delayed for 80 minutes due to torrential rain and lightning in the area. Kickoff began at 8:40 pm Central Time. Both teams started off very well as they were looking to take control of the game with some crisp passing from either side. Jacksonville looked more lively in the attacking third, and they were starting to find space on the outsides of Pensacola’s back line.
Then as the game seemed to settle, in the 15th minute Pensacola’s Azahrias Ali lost possession of the ball just inside the Armada’s half. That would prove to be crucial as Jacksonville went on the counter attack. Alex Iedries played a beautiful pass to the top of the box for an onrushing Reed Davis who hit a shot to the left of Brandon Stam in the Pensacola goal. This was the cushion that Jacksonville was looking for.
Errors and crucial giveaways resulting in goals conceded has been Pensacola’s biggest hurdle all season. However, the Pelicans did not drop their heads as they knew how vital points were needed if they were to secure a playoff spot. Ali was determined to make amends for his earlier giveaway, and in the 20th minute, he hit a shot from 25 yards out that just went over the Armada’s goal. Pensacola should have equalized when Prince Owusu floated a beautiful cross into the box for Anthony Ciccarello who guided his shot wide from 12 yards out.
Owusu continued to trouble the Armada’s right side with some dazzling runs and dribbling. Jarred Dass had a shot from 30 yards out but the ball just sailed inches over the bar. Despite Pensacola’s pressure, Jacksonville was not making anything easy for the Pelicans. Captain Elijah Howe and his troops were sustaining every attack that Pensacola was starting to assert on the game with great defensive stops. Armada took the lead into halftime, as Pensacola was starting to gain control. With the rain and lightning clear, the second half was going to be filled with excitement.
As both teams started the second half, Pensacola came out in full force. Just as they ended the first half, they started pushing the Armada back towards their own goal. Issac Kamara was pulling all the strings in the middle of the park for Pensacola with his movement and passing. The Pelicans were looking like they were going to get the equalizer to bring them back into the game. In the 56th minute, Kamara intercepted a pass and played it into the path of Owusu with one defender to beat. He was able to get a shot off that was saved by Dominic Dominguez which resulted in a corner kick for the Pelicans.
Pensacola’s possession and movement was becoming problematic for Jacksonville as they were struggling to get hold of the ball. Pensacola was making them chase, which started showing as they were having a hard time coping with the pace of Owusu and Cicarello.
The Armada were keen to hold on to that one-goal lead as they just could not find a way to get into Pensacola’s half of the field. Some sturdy and brave defending by Pensacola’s Marco Navarro, Brandon Medina, and Hayden Anderson was proving too much for the Armada front trio. Pensacola head coach Dean Logan was urging his players to push higher up the field as the Jacksonville players were starting to look fatigued.
In the 65th minute some interchanging passing between James Morrissey, Anderson, and Cicarello saw the latter unleash a powerful shot that was brilliantly saved by Dominguez as the Armadas breathed a sigh of relief. The only thing missing from Pensacola’s game was a goal as they limited Jacksonville to just one shot on target in the second half.
Keegan Lynch had a chance to score that decisive goal to level the scores for Pensacola but hit over the bar just on the edge of the Armada’s six yard box after the ball was layed off to him by Kamara.
This summed up the Pelicans’ night as missed chances allowed Jacksonville to walk away with all three points and continue their domination of the Gulf Coast Conference standings. Pensacola will travel to Tallahassee on Wednesday, June 29.
Logan was very proud of his players and how they performed in the match.
“I am very happy with what I saw from the guys tonight,” Logan said. “They left everything out on the field. We did not get the result that we wanted. Lots of credit to Jacksonville and their head coach as they are a quality team. The level of football on display tonight was of very high quality.”
Photo Credit: Steven MacNaughton/Pensacola FC