The first meeting of the Jacksonville Armada and San Francisco Deltas turned into a grudge at first sight.

 

The tackles were biting, the tension was high and the goals were nonexistent in Saturday night’s 0-0 draw at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium.


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Armada captain Aaron Pitchkolan said it took just three minutes for the bitterness to seep into the evening.

“It kind of started early on in the game with that tackle on Drew [Beckie],” Pitchkolan said. “I think that kind of set the tone for some of those tackles.”

Just three minutes in, Deltas winger Pablo Dyego tangled with Armada fullback Beckie and midfielder Jack Blake, sparking a general tangle that even sent referee Mark Kadlecik sprawling to the ground.

That was just the beginning.

Instead of a contest of skill between the surprising Armada and the expansion Deltas (1-0-2), the top two teams in the North American Soccer League standings, a crowd of 3,512 fans got a physical and bruising clash that played like a decades-long rivalry.

The Deltas came out to defend, and they came away with a draw that ended the Armada’s perfect start and put a speed bump in the club’s newfound momentum.

“We were the team that was trying to win the game, I think that was clear,” Armada coach Mark Lowry said. “So I’m proud of that. Unfortunately, we kept knocking on the door, but we couldn’t break it down tonight.”

Lowry deployed his now-familiar set of 11 players from the season-opening wins over Edmonton. The team hadn’t fielded the same starting lineup for three straight games since May 2015.

The Armada (2-0-1) came close twice near the end on long-range shots from J.C. Banks and Blake. But Banks’ shot was parried by Deltas keeper Romuald Peiser, and Blake’s effort rolled inches wide.

But it was the rough stuff that most will remember.

Armada fullback Kalen Ryden wrestled with San Francisco’s Brazilian winger Jackson, Deltas midfielder Cristian Portilla banged heads with Blake and referee Kadlecik handed out six yellow cards in all.

The game really blew up in the 65th minute.

Banks slid into San Francisco’s Karl Ouimette, who spent the 2016 fall season with the Armada, and Deltas captain Nana Attakora responded with a hard challenge of his own. No foul was called, but once the play stopped, irate Deltas converged on Banks at the sideline.

That sparked a major skirmish involving nearly everyone on the field, which spilled onto the bench and held up play for four minutes as the referee restored order.

Lowry felt San Francisco’s reaction was unwarranted.

“There’s not much there [in Banks’ tackle],” he said. “Anywhere else in the world, they’d probably just play on and people would get on with it.”

What is still perfect, though: The Armada defense, which hasn’t allowed a goal in 270 minutes of play this season.

Center backs Mechack Jerome and Pitchkolan helped keep it that way, shielded effectively by defensive midfielders Kevan George and Nicklas Maripuu. San Francisco managed just two shots on target.

“It’s a great confidence booster for us,” George said. “When you don’t allow a goal, the keeper is happy, the defense is happy and it breeds confidence for the front line as well.”

The Armada had never before played at home while leading the NASL standings, and they’ll remain there for at least another week. Jacksonville next plays April 22 at the defending champion New York Cosmos.