Naval Station Mayport Public Affairs
The crowd seemed to watch with bated breath as the Jacksonville Armada chased the Puerto Rico Football Club into extra time, trailing 0-1. As time closed in, Armada midfielder Charles Eloundou brought the ball downfield and made a driving pass to forward Derek Gebhard.
Seeing his chance, Derek bolted past two of the Puerto Rico defenders. He leaped into the air and headed the ball past Puerto Rico goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg to tie the game.
Derek's parents, Navy Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4) Michael Gebhard, stationed at Littoral Combat Ship Squadron (LCSRON) Two, and Aronette Gebhard, watched from the stands as their son salvaged what could have been a tough loss.
"Seeing the passion and excitement on his face after he scored the game-tying goal is what it's all about," said CWO4 Gebhard. "At times it can be stressful, but moments like tonight make everything worthwhile."
The Armada, whose name is a nod to Jacksonville's Navy presence, is one of two Florida-based professional soccer teams in the North American Soccer League. Derek Gebhard, who made his professional debut in 2015, has continued to prove himself on the field.
After scoring his first professional goal in May, Gebhard has gone on to score three more. Before his game-tying header, his last goal secured a win for the Armada against FC Edmonton on July 1. His father was again in attendance that day, acting as the honorary team captain.
"It's funny how that ended up working out," said Derek. "I was really happy that â€¦ he was there for that. And as the honorary captain, my dad got to do the coin toss. That was really cool."
Growing up a military child, Derek couldn't help but notice the parallels to war and the military often made in the world of sports. He said he and his dad share some common traits that help them succeed in their respective careers.
"There are definitely some similarities. It's teamwork everyday and communicating," said Derek. "For whatever career you have, it's all about hard work and doing the right things to succeed."
CWO4 Gebhard echoed his son's sentiments, adding that he's passed down some of the lessons he's learned in his military career.
"I've been able to impart on him a lot of things I've learned in the military," said CWO4 Gebhard. "I'd like to think that's played a part in his success. It's a team effort, which is obviously big in the military. You can't do anything without the people beside you."
Derek said he might even owe his interest in soccer to his father's career in the Navy.
"My dad got stationed in Rota, Spain, and my babysitters were huge soccer fans," said Derek. "I always played with their son. It got me really into soccer. That definitely had an impact."
CWO4 Gebhard said he knew from an early age Derek had talent and always tried to foster that interest and skill.
"He's been a great athlete since he could walk," said CWO4 Gebhard. "One Christmas, when he was one or two, I got him a toy basketball and hoop. He didn't even open anything else. He just played with the basketball."
Derek's mother, Aronette, also served in the Navy as an Ocean Systems Technician Analyst (now known as a Sonar Technician), and Derek said he's always considered the military an option for him.
"If I wasn't playing soccer, I really do think I'd be in the military," said Gebhard. "The goal was always athletics, but I've always had [the military] on my mind. We're a Navy family."
Fore more information about the Jacksonville Armada and their upcoming schedule, visit their website at www.armadafc.com.