The SIMA Àguilas took the field for the first time in 2018 as they faced the NPSL’s Jacksonville Armada in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Montverde Academy. With a team largely made up of current and former Orlando City academy players, the Àguilas fell to the Armada, 2-0, ending their inaugural Open Cup run.
While Jacksonville dominated early possession, it was the Àguilas that nearly got on the board first. An overlap across the field allowed Ales Diouf to lay the ball off for Seo-In Kim, who fired on goal. The low shot looked like it may be heading toward the low corner, but Armada goalkeeper Brian Holt dove to his right to collect.
The Armada looked as though they would take the lead in the 40th minute when SIMA goalkeeper Ritchie Steinmann came off his line to catch a long ball. Steinmann collided with his defender, causing him to lose possession and a chance for Armada midfielder Christian Silva arose. The ball appeared to be headed for the empty net, but SIMA’s Gabriel Pfeffer stepped in front of the shot at the top of the six-yard box to make the block and keep the game even.
Unlucky to be headed into the half with no score, Jacksonville finally converted just nine minutes into the second half. A short corner ended up at the foot of Michael Melvin, who sent a curling cross into the box. A missed clearance by SIMA midfielder Alexander Happi directed the ball to the foot of Joshua Castellanos, who hit the ball past Steinmann for the opening goal.
Just a minute later, SIMA nearly equalized when quick play sprung Mikael Martins into a foot race with Melvins. The SIMA midfielder was able to get a shot off, which beat Holt, but not his left post, denying the Àguilas’ best chance of the game.
The Armada put the game away in the 77th minute when a miscommunication between substitute J.J. Donnelly and Happi allowed former MLS striker Conor Doyle space. The experienced forward didn’t squander the chance, firing from 25 yards out and beating Steinmann to his far post.
SIMA Head Coach Mike Potempa was pleased with the performance of his young team. “I thought it was a great game for us,” the coach and academy director said. “We started a very young team. We started six 18-year-olds, some from our academy, and these are the types of games our players need.”
This game featured multiple current and former Orlando City players on both teams. The Armada took the field with former academy product Melvin and Mechack Jérôme, who played for the Lions’ first team in 2011 and 2012. The Àguilas started the game with four players who have spent time in the Orlando City academy: Allen Seals, Diouf, Martins, and Alejandro Pereira. Former academy product and Orlando City B player Joe Gallardo came on to replace Seals in the 72nd minute. While none of the current and former Lions added their names to the score sheet, Melvin was the most dangerous of the group, setting up multiple opportunities for the Armada.
Potempa expressed the importance of having Orlando City’s young players in this PDL team during the summer months.
“For me, it’s more about the development of the players. Giving them this type of opportunity, in this type of environment, and against this type of competition at a young age. This is what we believe in,” he said.
“It’s very, very important that we bring them back,” Potempa continued about Orlando City’s players. “Keep them together, keep them in the system, have them around, have them integrate into the first team with Jason Kreis, have other representatives from the first team here to watch. This is what we need to produce Homegrown talent for Orlando City.”
SIMA was missing several collegiate players, some of whom would be recognizable to Orlando City fans, as those players finish up their spring semester. They will likely be joining the team soon as the Àguilas move onto the 2018 PDL season.
With its cup run over, SIMA will take the field next on Saturday night when they host Weston FC at Montverde Academy to begin their PDL schedule.
Starting XI: Steinmann; Garcia, Mendoza, Pfeffer, Manning; Happi, Seals, Diouf; Martins, Kim, Pereira.
Unused Subs: Cabrera, John, Bender, Almeida.
Goals: JAX - Castellanos (54’), Doyle (77’).
Yellows: SIMA – Garcia (61’), Seals (66’), Mendoza (81’); JAX – Beckie (29’), Yuma (35’).