Jacksonville, November 4, 2023
Jacksonville Armada is set to join the MLS Next Pro League for the 2025 season, accompanied by the construction of a new stadium on the Eastside, as revealed in their recent announcement on Thursday.
The MLS Next Pro is recognized as a developmental league that incorporates reserve teams for 27 out of 29 Major League Soccer (MLS) teams, while the Jacksonville Armada will be entering as an independent entity without any affiliations with an MLS club.
The Armada, which initiated its journey in 2015 within the North American Soccer League (NASL), faced a temporary setback when the NASL disbanded in 2018. Consequently, the club continued to operate as an amateur team in the National Premier Soccer League, playing their matches at various venues, including Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, Edward Waters University, and local high schools.
During a press conference on Thursday, team owner Robert Palmer expressed his patience and determination to be part of a competitive league. He conveyed their aspiration to contribute to the growth of independent clubs and lower-division teams, acknowledging that the MLS Next Pro league aligns perfectly with their vision for success.
Palmer emphasized the importance of fans, a league, and a home stadium for the club’s success. Section 904, the Armada’s supporters’ group, remained dedicated during the club’s amateur phase, and now the time has come to provide them with a permanent home.
Armada team President Nathan Walter highlighted the significant growth of professional soccer and the upcoming international men’s tournaments hosted by the U.S. in the next three summers, making this the ideal moment to establish a permanent presence for the global sport in Jacksonville. He also pointed out that Jacksonville, as the largest media market in the country without a professional soccer club within a two-hour radius of its downtown area, offers enormous potential for the club.
The new stadium will be situated on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard, in close proximity to the 121 Financial Baseball Grounds and the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, ensuring easy access to downtown Jacksonville.
Initially met with skepticism by some neighbors and business owners, the Armada made a concerted effort to engage with the community over the years. This involved meetings with community stakeholders, soccer clinics, and efforts to become an integral part of the Eastside neighborhood.
Thursday’s announcement included the presence of Eastside residents, community leaders, nonprofit executives, local soccer supporters, business executives, and elected officials, signifying the club’s commitment to local engagement and community integration.
Chavella Rochelle, a member of Section 904 and a Mandarin resident, expressed her excitement for the club’s professional revival. Her introduction to soccer came through her children’s involvement in the sport, and she praised the familial atmosphere and camaraderie within the Armada’s community.
Tommy Križanović, the head coach, stood as a witness to the momentous occasion, reminiscing about his time playing for the club during its NASL era and his graduation from Wolfson High School.
Charles Altchek, President of MLS Next Pro, commended the passion and enthusiasm surrounding the Jacksonville Armada. He emphasized that the league was dedicated to growing the sport alongside the club and highlighted Jacksonville’s deserving presence in the professional soccer landscape.
Altchek also mentioned that MLS Next Pro is initiating independent clubs in High Point, North Carolina, in 2024, and Cleveland in 2025. However, what sets the Armada apart is its existence before joining the developmental league, reflecting the city’s genuine desire for a professional soccer team and the club’s commitment to Jacksonville’s community and soccer culture.