In their inaugural season, the Jacksonville Armada were a massive disappointment on the pitch. The Armada lost 15 of their 30 matches during their first campaign, picking up just eight victories in total, while going winless on the road in both the spring and fall seasons. Those disappointing results, combined with reasonable high expectations due to a middle of the pack payroll, led to sweeping changes during the offseason.
The club brought in Metrostars legend Tony Meola to take the helm, making him the fourth head coach in the short history of the Armada. Meola is expected to bring a massive philosophical change, opting for less of a possession based attack, instead asking his players to sit a little deeper, and looking to hit quickly on the counter attack.
Meola's biggest challenge was remaking the defense, which allowed a ridiculous 49 goals in 2015, better than only the San Antonio Scorpions. The former MLS goaltender turned to USL for a pair of new starters, Bryan Burke and Matt Bahner. He also re-signed MLS veteran Mechak Jerome, who joined the club late last season, and looked good during his brief spell with the Armada.
In front of that pair, Meola will have former Fury midfielder Richie Ryan, arguably the biggest addition that the club made. Ryan seems tailor-made for the tactics that the Armada are likely to use, having been one of the biggest reasons that Ottawa was able to counterattack their way to the Fall Season title, before falling to the Cosmos in the championship game. Junior Sandoval and Pekka Langerblom should also be key midfield additions, though Lagerblom won't be available on Sunday.
Up top, the Armada bring back Alhassane Keita, their best player from a year ago. He'll be paired with USL leading goalscorer Matt Fondy, whose ability to adapt to a new team and league will be one of the things to watch from the Florida side.
Unlike Ottawa, whose tactics and roster were fairly poorly suited to facing the Cosmos, the Armada provide a pretty interesting matchup, and should provide a more competitive affair. The deep-lying defense won't leave Jairo Arrieta the same sort of space to work with behind them, especially out wide, where the Costa Rican found acres of open turf. The presence of Ryan should also prove to make life more difficult for Juan Arango, who the Fury had no answer for last weekend.
On the other hand, Meola's more conservative approach should lead to plenty of Cosmos possession, which in turn, will likely give us a few good looks at Arango standing above a set piece. That's something we didn't see much of in the opener, but it's expected to be one of New York's most dangerous weapons, especially with options like Jimmy Ockford and David Ochieng available as aerial threats.
Given all of that, I think that the Cosmos will have a tough one this weekend, but I believe they'll just have too much talent and depth for an Armada team missing Lagerblom. I'm predicting another clean sheet for Jimmy Maurer, and a 2-0 win for New York.