Atlanta Silverbacks head coach Alex Pineda Chacon
Taking an optimistic look at the upcoming season, it can only get better for the Atlanta Silverbacks.
After hastily putting together a club last year in just a couple of months before the season started, Atlanta made myriad changes during the offseason after a 4-20-4 campaign in the NASL.
If you go
What: Atlanta Silverbacks season opener vs. San Antonio Scorpions
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Atlanta Silverbacks Park, 3200 Atlanta Silverbacks Way, Atlanta
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The chance to put last year behind them begins tonight for the Silverbacks, who host the San Antonio Scorpions at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
It starts at the top with coaching. The club parted ways with Jose Manuel Abundis after one year and replaced him with Alex Pineda Chacon, who has been a Silverbacks assistant for three seasons.
This will be Chacon's first head coaching job, just as it was for Abundis last year. Chacon, the 2001 Major League Soccer MVP, is looking forward to the new opportunity.
"I'm excited for the season. I'm ready for the soccer," he said.
Part of his immediate responsibility will be to field a team with many missing pieces. Forward Matt Horth was injured during the preseason. Newcomer forward Stephen Ademolu will likely miss the first game with visa issues, and forward Reinaldo Navia has just arrived in town.
"Our main problem is with strikers," Chacon said. "But with the players we have now, I trust everybody. We need everybody right now, and I'm excited for the first game. I think it'll be a good crowd. That's going to be a great motivation."
One of the key offensive newcomers will be Danilo Turcios. The 34-year-old midfielder is the fifth-most capped player in Honduras history with 85 international appearances, including games in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"(Turcios) has been working for about two weeks. He picked up the system quickly," Chacon said. "He's also a very talented player and has been working so hard."
Midfielder Tony McManus, who returns after playing in Atlanta from 2005-08, also believes Turcios is a key to the offense early in the season.
"I think Danny is the link between the midfielders and the forwards," McManus said. "Right now, (Stephen) Ademolu and (Reinaldo) Navia have yet to show up, so we're just doing it with the bare essentials.
"Trying to fit guys into formations was a struggle (in the preseason). Now we're getting a bit more fluid. It'll be interesting to see what we can come up with against San Antonio."
Navia, a forward and native of Chile, is a former Mexican first division player, spending time with six different teams south of the border, including Estudiantes Tecos, Monarcas Morelia and Club America. Navia has 40 caps with the Chilean national team, scoring 10 goals in those appearances.
Ademolu played last year with the Windsor Stars of the Canadian Soccer League. The 29-year-old spent 2004-11 in Europe, playing professionally in Sweden, Norway and Lithuania. He also has five caps with the Canadian national team.
"Stephen has been playing at a high level his entire career, both for European clubs and his national team," Chacon said in a news release. "We're excited to have him here, and we think his speed and finishing abilities will be a great asset to our front line."
The club shored up its defense in the winter by adding Hungarian goalkeeper Daniel Illyes. He spent 10 years playing professionally in his home country, eight of those in the top division. Illyes replaces departed veteran Felipe Quintero and Lawrenceville native Jimmy Maurer in the net for Atlanta.
"Daniel is a talented and experienced goalkeeper who will be a tremendous leader for us from the back," Silverbacks goalkeepers coach Jose "Gaucho" Pinho said in a release. "Through his years in Europe, he understands what it takes to succeed at the professional level, and we're excited to have him."
Ciaran O'Brien is one of the 11 returning Silverbacks and six returning midfielders. The former member of MLS' Colorado Rapids expects all the added experience to pay dividends for this year's team.
"Obviously we're a lot more experienced this year just with the people on the scene now," O'Brien said. "The rookies have got another season under their belt. We have more time to prepare in terms of playing together."
The added depth of experienced players could also help players like O'Brien, who were relied upon as veterans last year despite having just a few years of professional experience.
"Last year I was probably one of the top three experienced players at 23 years old," he said. "Bringing in those guys will definitely help us. We lacked a little maturity last year. We now know what we have to do to win."
A lot will ride on the shoulders of Chacon with the expectation of improvement. He comes into the season with ample time to prepare compared to last year's rush after the club reformed. However, he is confident in the product that will be on the field.
"As soon as we get everybody in town, we should see a much better team than last season," Chacon said. "We don't have (Argentinian star Lionel) Messi on the team, so we have to work harder to make the difference. We have to make the difference working as a team."