By 3Ssoccer Media
The #1 team in the nation arrived in Hattiesburg, MS, and left with an undefeated regular season. Jacksonville Armada FC U-23 came to The Oakes to face second-place Southern States SC Stars looking to make a statement. The Stars are the #6 team in the nation and presented a formidable challenge to the Armada’s undefeated season.
The game started like a heavyweight fight with both teams trading runs and thwarting challenges. That is until the 30th minute when the Armada broke through by earning a penalty kick. Forward and team captain Alexandros Lerides slotted the penalty, and Jacksonville was up 1-0. That shot broke a dead-locked battle of two well-organized and talented sides. The Armada changed tactics and dropped five defenders in the back, securing the 1-0 lead going into halftime.
In the second half, the Armada changed tactics. Surprisingly, Jacksonville came out attacking, but it was the Stars that created the most chances. The Stars outshot the Armada 18-12 overall. Southern States pressed and played with an urgency that seemed destined to yield goals. Amid this barrage, Armada midfielder Mason Tunbridge took possession of a ball in his own half and made an amazing run to goal to make it 2-0 in the 68th minute. Tunbridge’s goal was not only a remarkable display of individual skill, but it was also a momentum killer.
Nevertheless, the resilient Stars rebounded and played with heightened urgency that created numerous chances. Jacksonville’s defense held firm until finally giving up a penalty kick in the 86th minute. Forward Jean Lucas Rivera Murillo coolly placed the penalty in the side netting to make the game 2-1.
The Armada was not done, however. Despite being outshot in the second half, Jacksonville made the most of its opportunities. In the 90th minute, Lerides earned yet another penalty kick which he put in himself to make it 3-1.
The Armada clearly took advantage of the nine minutes of extra time. They earned a free kick outside the Stars’ box which forward Marc Birkeland laced around the wall and into the corner for an amazing goal. Just like that, a game that was a dogfight turned into a 4-1 win for the Armada.
Jacksonville head coach Tommy Krizanovic shared his thoughts on the match.
“My first thought was what a tough opponent and my second thought is we had to adapt a little bit,” Krizanovic said. “We didn’t get to play the way usually do but we got the result. At halftime, we discussed game-changers. When a game is even, when a game is tough, and players are battling, you look for game-changers. Players that can make something happen, that can do something special. That’s what the boys did today.”
Soccer fans were treated to a fine display of talent to close out the NPSL regular season at The Oakes. The seeding for the playoffs was unchanged by this match, but the anticipation for what these two teams will do next week has been amplified.
Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson/Southern States SC