There’s no place like… the road.
The Jacksonville Armada is heading away from the First Coast when it matters most.
And, for once, that may be a good thing.
“Every game is a must-win for us,” Armada coach Mark Lowry said.
For the first time in 2017, Jacksonville is playing catch-up, two points outside the fourth and final playoff spot in the North American Soccer League combined standings entering Friday’s trip to FC Edmonton at Clarke Stadium in Alberta.
In its first year and a half, the Armada went winless away from home for its first 25 trips. This fall, though, Jacksonville hasn’t won a game at home but has fared well elsewhere, with two wins and two draws in the team’s last five games in enemy territory.
Why the reversal of form? Lowry has his hypothesis.
“When people come to us, they tend to stay a little bit more compact and they deny us more space,” Lowry said. “But away from home, they’re the home team, so they have to be a little more expansive and that gives us opportunities.”
Edmonton is no exception. The Armada won its prior Canadian visit on April 8 and has beaten Edmonton 1-0 in all three meetings this year.
“It could have gone the other way, too,” defender Drew Beckie said. “But we’ve done well against them.”
But this time, numbers aren’t on the Armada’s side.
* Like two. That’s the number of games that leading scorer Jack Blake will miss - one for receiving his fifth yellow card of the fall and one for a red card after the final whistle in Sunday’s loss to Miami.
That will force players like Zach Steinberger and J.C. Banks, who scored the Armada’s first goal against Edmonton this year, to plug the gap.
* Or three. That’s how many starters will miss Friday’s game.
In addition to Blake, defender Mechack Jerome, who has started every game in 2017, is in Asia with Haiti’s national team. Ball-winner Kevan George is on duty with Trinidad and Tobago.
“We’ll have to adjust a little bit, but we’ve got to stay within ourselves,” Banks said. “I think we’re deep enough to handle it.”
* Or 295. That’s how many minutes Jacksonville has gone without a goal. They haven’t scored since they surrendered three goals in the last 12 minutes in New York on Sept. 17, a collapse that turned an apparent 3-0 win into a 3-3 tie.
Lowry doesn’t believe the current slump is due to lingering psychological fallout from that disappointment.
“It almost seems like fortune isn’t on our side right now,” he said. “I think the performances have been fantastic. A little bit of luck and a little bounce that goes our way, and the balls will roll in the net.”
After Friday, Jacksonville plays three games at home, including matchups with playoff rivals North Carolina and New York. Once those games come, the Armada will have to overcome a hometown slump that dates back to July 1.
There’s no better time for them to prepare than now, and no more important place than Edmonton - or else.
“If we don’t perform,” Banks said, “the season’s going to be over quicker than we want it to be.”