The Jacksonville Armada is coming off a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union on Feb. 6. The Armada was able to get a late goal from Charles Eloundou in the 80th minute to send the Union home with a loss. The man of the match for the game was former Orlando City goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, who made some timely saves in the first half. So, what can we expect from Jacksonville?
The Armada lined up in a 3-5-2 formation against the Union. When they are defending, they will have the look of a 5-2-1-2. In the attack they will look more like a 3-4-3. This formation is very similar to the formation Orlando City used in a loss to NYCFC where Cyle Larin scored a hat trick at Yankee Stadium.
The motive to use this formation lies in the pitch that Jacksonville plays on. The Community First Park is a baseball field converted into a soccer field. The dimensions are that of what Orlando City sees when the Lions play at Yankee Stadium. The formation that Jacksonville plays will attempt to stymie Orlando City's explosive midfield by overloading the central part of the pitch. The dimensions of the field will be tight, making the play of the outside backs a very important key to game.
Miguel Gallardo is a decent goalkeeper. We have seen him play over and over again as Orlando City fans: Gallardo was instrumental in taking Orlando City on numerous USL Championship runs, and he had a .733 goals-against average with Orlando City and was named 2011 USL Goalkeeper of the Year.
The way around him is to expose his lack of height. The 6-foot-1 Gallardo was always suspect on crosses, and with the possibility of Pedro Ribeiro and Cyle Larin seeing minutes at striker, we may see a couple crosses find the back of the net. But Gallardo can steal matches, and this will be a first good test for the Orlando City strikers.
Matt Fondy will likely see the majority of the minutes at forward for the Armada on Saturday. Fondy had 22 goals with Louisville City last year and the USL MVP now has made the jump to the NASL. He is a true No. 9 striker and scored a goal on Orlando City last year in an August friendly.
To be fair, Orlando City fielded mostly reserves in the game against Louisville City, but Fondy was still dangerous most of the night and created issues for Orlando City's back line. Fondy's involvement in Jacksonville's attack will need to be limited if Orlando wants to keep a clean sheet.
Look for Jacksonville to sit back in the first 25 minutes and try to absorb pressure from Orlando City. They will try to get out into the counter attack by using their outside backs to get forward in the attack. The longer this game stays scoreless, the more Jacksonville will feel it has a shot to win. If Orlando City can get an early goal or two it will pull Jacksonville out of its shell and force it to bring numbers forward.
This game is only an exhibition, but make no mistake -- both teams will want to beat their in-state rival.