The Jacksonville Armada defeated the Charleston Battery 2-1 after extra time in the third round of the 2016 US Open Cup Wednesday night at picaresque Southern Oak Stadium on the campus of Jacksonville University. A capacity crowd of 1,200 saw the Armada win for the first time since an April 15 NASL league triumph over The Miami FC. The win was also the first US Open Cup win for the Jacksonville Armada in their young franchise history.
The chances came early and often for Jacksonville, who dominated possession in the game’s first twenty minutes. Matt Fondy, starting in place of the struggling Alhassane Keita, rewarded manager Tony Meola’s confidence, holding the ball up well and creating multiple chances with his vision and passing. Only the first of a handful of marvelous saves from Charleston goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, who earned seven caps for Cuba before defecting in 2012, kept the game on level terms after fifteen minutes. The Armada broke through, however, in the 17th minute on a late run by Patrick Otte, who buried a Matt Fondy lay-off.
Charleston, however, looking to become one of, if not the first US Open Cup side to advance a round after losing the prior round (a penalties defeat to Villages SC was overturned due to The Villages fielding an ineligible player) leveled quickly.
Montreal Impact loanee Romario Williams delivered a splendid ball with a defender on his shoulder to an onrunning Chris Tsonis, who easily slotted past Miguel Gallardo to bring the Battery level. Williams was a handful for Jacksonville all evening, his physical and speedy runs stretching the Armada on the counterattack consistently. been so physical and strong he often lacks supporting runs.
In the second half, the Armada again controlled the ball and collected the most chances. Junior Sandoval’s blast in the 48th minute was saved well by Odisnel Cooper in the 48th minute and Beto Navarro fired over the goal from seven yards in the 54th minute, but the go-ahead goal would not come.
Indeed, it was Charleston who nearly took the lead in the 64th minute on a fantastic run by Romario Williams, who manhandled Beto Navarro and fired across the net only to have Miguel Gallardo deflect the ball away. That chance was the closest either side came to scoring until extra time.
Alhassane Keita, who entered in the second half for Matt Fondy, nearly put Jacksonville ahead in the first fifteen minutes of extra time, only to be denied by the wingspan of Cooper. Cooper’s save came moments after it appeared Alex Dixon was taken down in the area by Brian Woodbine, only to see referee Kevin Terry Jr. signal “play on.”
The teams remained even until the 108th minute, when Junior Sandoval played a ball to Alex Dixon on the edge of the area and Dixon played a one-time lovely flick to Keita, who beat Cooper far post to give the Armada the winner. The goal was the first for Keita in any competition all year for Jacksonville, and a sigh of relief for the Guinean, who led the Armada in goals in their inaugural season.
The win was particularly meaningful for Tony Meola, who captained Sporting Kansas City (then the Wizards) to a US Open Cup championship in 2004. “It means a lot to me personally, with Lamar Hunt’s name on the trophy, a man who was special to me and a competition that was special to me for the nine years I was in Kansas City. We said we’d do our best to put the best team out and we did that tonight.”
Meola was pleased to see Alhassane Keita, his troubled goalscorer, end his slump, but even more pleased to see a young player like Alex Dixon make a difference with the game-winning assist. “I’m happy for Keita, obviously, but one guy I’m particularly happy for is Dixon, because it has been tough for him, to be completely fair, and he came in tonight and did everything he was asked to do. Of course I’m happy for the group, but sometimes certain guys when you see them every day, you want to see them do well.”
Dixon deflected the praise. “It’s not about anyone or me. I was happy to contribute and make a little difference. I saw Sandoval cut in and then Keita peeled off and I flicked it his direction. He did the rest but we’re thrilled to get the result.”
Jacksonville will host Orlando City in fourth round action on June 15.