The American soccer scene was truly energized by the November 2nd announcement from Jacksonville Armada FC. Anticipation was high after weeks of rumors and speculation, and no one would be disappointed with the major announcement that took place.
Jacksonville Armada FC became the newest member of MLS NEXT Pro, aiming to begin play in 2025. Jacksonville will be the third MLS NEXT Pro team in the state of Florida, joining MLS affiliates Inter Miami II and Orlando City B. Jacksonville is also the latest NPSL team to make the jump from the amateur ranks, joining both Detroit City FC and Chattanooga FC in the pros.
Bringing professional soccer back to Jacksonville was an important and necessary step according to Armada FC President and General Manager Nathan Walter.
“We are a massive market, an NFL market, a little different to many NPSL markets,” Walter said. “We have been a professional market in the past, now we can make it a long-term professional market under MLS NEXT Pro. To build a professional club that can last for generations to come. To offer the opportunity for a young player, person from Jacksonville to achieve their dreams on or off the field, either playing or working in the beautiful game. That for me is a very cool opportunity and what professional soccer provides for our community.”
Walter is confident that MLS NEXT Pro is the right place for his organization to grow and thrive.
“It was important for us, after experiencing what we went through in 2017, that we choose a league that had a long-term vision, stability, and a business model that was modeled for lower division teams to succeed under the Major League Soccer umbrella,” Walter added. “They say timing is everything, and that is certainly the case with us. In 2017 we started identifying stadium locations, and by 2019 we had an option on a prime location in the heart of our city that would put us within touching distance of our sporting neighbors. This enabled MLS NEXT Pro and our stadium project to align as one.”
Armada FC had quite a journey on the way to MLS NEXT Pro, and the club’s fans and supporters were there every step of the way.
“One of the silver linings in this experience is that we pressed the reset button,” Walter continued. “When you experience the explosion we had in this market back in 2015, it was a fairytale. 16,000 fans for the first game, we scored in the first 12 seconds of the game and won the home opener. It was dream land! But things changed very quickly. What we were left with was adversity, and adversity can really shape things for you. What it created was a family, a family that stuck by each other and helped each other get by. The NPSL played a huge part of that silver lining. Our fans, yes, they are excited. But they are thankful, they are humble, they are appreciative of the sacrifice they have had to experience in supporting our club.”
Walter has high hopes for the organization, and his goals are quite clear.
“To keep building as a community asset, for people to say that Armada makes a difference in our community,” Walter noted. “But we want to win, we want to win on and off the field in everything we do. We are judged on results at the end of the day.”
Walter did not underestimate the role that the organization’s NPSL team played in recent years, and he is looking forward to growing that platform in the years to come.
“The NPSL over the years has played a tremendous part in our player development model,” Walter concluded. “For young local and national players that we have identified, fostered, and helped push on to the next level. Now we get to utilize that model for our own professional team. In the past three years we have had four players sign professional contracts. We now get the opportunity to make them Jacksonville Armada MLSNP players.”
Thanks to Walter’s leadership and the club’s success in the NPSL, Jacksonville Armada FC now has a bright future in the professional game.
Photo Credit: Lexi Ray Photography