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Vocal leader
Silverbacks' Hayes uses words, actions to prove determination

If you sit in the stands at Remax Greater Atlanta Stadium during a Silverbacks game on a Saturday night in the summer, you will quite often hear a voice above all the others from the pitch.

David Hayes is the man behind the voice, and he garners a lot of respect from his teammates.

"(Hayes) lives to play soccer," captain Rodrigo Rios said. "He's so professional, and he's played for many years. He's a good leader for the whole team, but even more for the young players."

He is one of the most vocal leaders on the field, and that's not where his leadership stops.

In the first game of the season, Hayes was tackled in the penalty box while dribbling the ball down the right side. The referee motioned for Hayes to get up, but what he did not know was Hayes had separated his shoulder on the fall.

After the medical staff treated Hayes, he walked back to the bench. Hayes ended the night with his arm in a sling, which is never a good sight for someone in the starting 11 who is also one of the most experienced players on the team.

But the remaining minutes of the 2-2 draw against Montreal are all that separate him from having played every minute in league play this season.

Perhaps the drive behind Hayes is his belief that this is the best team he has been on in his three seasons in an Atlanta uniform.

"I don't want to sound too bad about what I'm saying, but I think it is the first year when we can actually and truly win (the USL title)," he said. "Before, I think we had a good squad with good individual talent. But this year, we have a team."

The team concept is what has kept the Silverbacks afloat during the tough times this year, according to Hayes.

"We started winning, then we started losing a lot," he said. "We all stuck together and said 'This is going to happen,' and we started working together."

It would be difficult to find someone on the team to say something bad about Hayes. Through his intense demeanor after games, you can see his dedication to the Atlanta Silverbacks.

"I have only good words about Hayes," Rios said. "He likes to practice. He likes to be involved in the club. He's a very good friend, and he is always able to help anybody outside the field."

"His energy makes us work hard," he said. "We try to have a good time on the field."

Hayes played as a forward in college at Wingate University and Charles County Community College. He broke records for goals at both schools, with 104 at Charles County and 78 at Wingate.

Hayes was selected by D.C. United 28th overall in the third round of the 1999 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. He played for a few years at United and moved on to the Chicago Fire, where he scored his first professional goal against current Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard.

But as many players have done - including assistant coach Alex Pineda-Chacon, the 2001 MLS MVP - Hayes made a move to the A-League, which later became part of the United Soccer Leagues. He played with Milwaukee, Richmond and Rochester before joining Atlanta three years ago.

When Atlanta was having trouble giving up too many goals, coach Jason Smith needed somebody who could shore up the defense and also attack from the outside defender spot. Hayes was his man.

"He has really owned that position since (moving there)," Smith said. "He's one of those guys that is very passionate about winning. When things aren't going well, he gets a little bit upset and plays a little harder."

Hayes' move to the A-League was made at a time when MLS was on shaky ground, which culminated in the contraction of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion. He wanted a more stable environment than the one offered in MLS at the time.

"I just didn't want to deal with that kind of political stuff," he said. "Guys were always coming in and out. You didn't know where you stood. You didn't know if you were going to be gone tomorrow. Back then, there wasn't as much security as there is now."

The Silverbacks played MLS club FC Dallas to a 1-1 draw in the U.S. Open Cup earlier this month. They were eliminated in the sixth round of penalty kicks, but FC Dallas and other MLS clubs were given a lesson as to how good soccer in the USL is. Five out of the eight MLS teams were eliminated in the third round of the Open Cup by USL First and Second Division squads.

"MLS has a couple of players that are in a different class," Hayes said. "But overall, it's the same. There are a lot of guys that have played MLS that don't want to deal with it and don't want to make their minimum ... and they come to play in this league. This league has gotten better every year."

Hayes' personal life changed dramatically almost a year ago when he got married on Aug. 18. The couple lives in Suwanee, and the transition for the new family has been great.

"I love it," he said. "I love my wife, obviously. She's great at supporting me and everything that I do with soccer. She's kind of everything. She's very supportive."

After his playing days are over, Hayes would like to do more with coaching. He coaches with some youth leagues now, but he aspires to make it to the pro ranks in the future.

"I want to coach college and then something like the Silverbacks," he said. "I love coaching. I'm going (to play) as long as it takes me. I'm 31, so I don't know how much longer I'll be able to stay at this pace."

Whenever the playing days do end, some team is going to end up with a coach with a lot of playing experience and an unstoppable drive to just win.

SideBar: SIlverbacks

' What: Copa Amistad (Friendship Cup)

' Who: Atlanta Silverbacks vs. Cruz Azul

' When: Today, 8 p.m.

' Where: Remax Greater Atlanta Stadium

' Special Events: The festival will include a bull-riding machine, a face-painting booth, a mariachi band and the Mundo Hispanico Kid's Zone with two moon walks

' Parking: Stadium parking opens at 3 p.m. for $10. An offsite lot, 4360 Northeast Expressway, will be located on the I-85 south access road between the Pleasantdale and Northcrest exits. Parking there is $5 and includes a complimentary shuttle between 6 p.m. and midnight