Orlando City SC celebrate a goal against Jacksonville Armada in the 2016 US Open Cup. Photo: James Drexler
Orlando City defeated the Jacksonville Armada 1-0 in Fourth Round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action Thursday night in front of a capacity crowd of 2,155 at Southern Oak Stadium in Jacksonville.
Southern Oak Stadium dripped with emotion in the build-up, the aftermath of the weekend’s tragic act of violence and hatred in Orlando heavy in the air. A considerable contingent of Orlando City supporters made the trip, purple-clad, full-throated and proud, Rainbow flags and signs of remembrance throughout the stadium in Jacksonville, and a moment of silence pre-kick that included both sides in shirts with rainbow hearts that read “Orlando United.”
Orlando City talisman Kevin Molino, who has played for the purple and gold since the USL days, said the game was a welcome respite given the tragedy. “Soccer isn’t much of a distraction,” Molino said. “There is so much sadness for the people of the city, for the loved ones lost, but also it is great to come out and try to unite the community. That feels good and giving them a moment of joy is good.”
Fans of the Jacksonville Armada show their support for the city of Orlando. Photo: James Drexler
Adrian Heath agreed with his star, expressing a sense of relief. “I’m glad we got this out of the way now, and we can concentrate on Saturday (Orlando hosts San Jose as MLS returns from the international break) which will be another emotionally-charged event.” Heath said the opening of the game, where the two teams wore the matching “Orlando United” shirts, was a particularly touching moment.
“Our supporters and the people of our city are part of the DNA of our football club. They are woven into the fabric of everything we’ve built. We’ve grieved with them and if for a couple of hours tonight we have taken their minds of something, that’s good.”
The night was, fairly put, a solemn evening where the soccer seemed secondary. But one minute into the match, Orlando City nearly gave their fans and their city a storybook opening, when Carlos Rivas made a marvelous run down the left flank just after the kick, centering beautifully, only to see Brazilian forward Julio Baptista miss a sitter.
The Lions would come close twice more in the opening fifteen minutes, first through Hadji Barry, who managed the first on target shot of the game, though he was well-defended by Tyler Ruthven, and his shot is easily handled by Miguel Gallardo. Six minutes later it was again Carlos Rivas threatening, as his shot from an odd angle on the left missed just over. Jacksonville had difficulty throughout the opening half closing down the Colombian, who rewarded his manager with multiple chances created.
Orlando City SC poses for a team photo before their match against the Jacksonville Armada in the 2016 US Open Cup. Photo: James Drexler
Despite Orlando City’s furious start, it was actually the hosts who had the better of the play in the opening half. As the game settled, the hosts came into the game, largely thanks to the tenacious midfield play of captain Kevan George and the active Mechack Jerome, who looked in splendid form after three challenging games for Haiti at the Copa América Centenario last week.
Another Haitian international, Pascal Milien, who also was in the Haiti team at the Copa América Centenario, took a while to get involved in the near triple-digit heat, but made his presence felt halfway through the first half, beating Orlando’s Kevin Alston on consecutive occasions down the flank and creating two quality chance for Jacksonville. The Armada couldn’t capitalize, however, earning only one weak shot on goal from both Milien’s runs, and following that, neither team presented much of a threat until the halftime whistle.
Adrian Heath changed midfield shape early in the second half, and was nearly rewarded after a a Milien turnover sent Orlando off on the break—but another Rivas shot went just wide. The shot was on the edge of the 49th minute, at which point a foghorn was sounded and all in attendance rose to their feet in solidarity to cheer and clap in honor of the 49 fallen at the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting this weekend.
Moments later, a Junior Sandoval shot took a deflection and fell beautifully to Jerome, whose shot off one touch beat Orlando City keeper Earl Edwards Jr but missed inches to the right.
The game changed, however, just past the hour mark. Referee Rubiel Vazquez called Beto Navarro for a foul on Julio Baptista just outside the eighteen, setting up a free kick. After Julio Baptista’s free kick was deflected out for a corner, Orlando again found the Brazilian in the area and the his flick found David Mateos on the far post who finished, giving Orlando a 1-0 lead in the 62nd minute.
City nearly added another three minutes later, as Jacksonville botched two chances to clear in the area before Miguel Gallardo dove to save a Carlos Rivas effort at the far post. Charles Eloundou, brought on for Alhassane Keita in the 65th minute, nearly leveled proceedings for Tony Meola’s side only moments after entering the game, but his long range blast was parried well by Earl Edwards Jr. to keep the Lions ahead.
With just under fifteen minutes to play, still trailing 1-0, Tony Meola brought on Danny Barrow, an attacker on for fullback Bryan Burke, as Jacksonville desperately searched for an equalizer. Barrow helped the Armada earn a terrific chance in the 89th minute, playing a brilliant ball through to Mechack Jerome, but his ensuing cross sailed over a flurry of secondary runners at the center of the box. After Miguel Gallardo parried away a counterattacking chance from Orlando City’s Tony Rocha, Charles Elondou nearly got in behind the City defense, only to have Earl Edwards Jr. beat him to the ball. The Armada would get yet one more chance, in stoppage time, when defender Tyler Ruthven beat David Mateos to a 50-50 ball, but sailed his effort from five yards over the bar.
Orlando City will await a Fifth Round draw Thursday afternoon. Jacksonville Armada, having captured their first win in franchise history in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, will open play in the NASL fall season July 2nd at Tampa Bay.