The Boys in Purple travel to Jacksonville tonight to face Jacksonville Armada FC in Orlando City’s opening match of the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In light of the weekend’s horrific events, the team will be sporting black armbands and Jacksonville fans have been planning tributes to the city of Orlando as well.
From a strategy standpoint, it will be interesting to see the Starting XI that Adrian Heath goes with as unlike last year, the Lions have a whole USLPRO affiliate roster to draw experienced players from. Coach Heath will want to avoid a repeat of the Charleston game last season which saw the Lions prevail in a shootout after a tough physical 4-4 result in extra time. With that in mind, we should likely see at least a half squad of MLS starters mixed with the more experienced Orlando City B players. While Jacksonville is a NASL team which is in the second tier on the U.S. Soccer pyramid, any of the third tier USL OCB players will be primed with the MLS team’s style of play and should be competitive and ready to go.
The Armada play in a single table league that has a 2 part season. NASL has a Spring Season and a Fall Season and the winners of each play in that year’s NASL Soccer Bowl. Jacksonville is currently 10th out of 11 in the standings for the Spring Season with a record of 4-5-5. They are 0-3-2 in their last 5.
While Jacksonville may be on a bit of a slide, they are still staffed with 3 former Orlando City players including keeper Miguel Gallardo, defenders Bryan Burke and Mechack Jerome. If that doesn’t get the Lions’ attention, they also have 2015 USL MVP and Golden Boot holder in striker Matt Fondy and they will be hunting for big game in this match.
For those unfamiliar, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is a tournament of teams from every level of the United States soccer pyramid. Aside from the $250,000 prize and a nifty keen trophy, the champion of this tournament receives a birth in the CONCACAF Champions League to determine the best club in North America. The winner of the Champions League is then invited to the Club World Cup to crown the best soccer club on the planet. No big deal.
Lions will return to MLS action on Saturday vs the San Jose Earthquakes. The team announced yesterday a slate of special events in memoriam of those that lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning. These include a pause during the game by Orlando City for 30 seconds of silence. In a move that is indicative of how in tune with this community Orlando City is, President Phil Rawlins announced that 49 seats in Section 12 on the west side of the new stadium will be permanently colored in rainbow shades to honor those who died.
Additionally the team will designate sections of the stadium Saturday for each person who perished and there will be memorial game day posters and T-shirts available with all proceeds going to support the victims of the attack.