Silverbacks post shutout to earn draw with Rowdies

Atlanta Silverbacks' Jahbari Willis, a Brookwood grad, challenges Tampa Bay Rowdies' Takuya Yamada for a ball in the air Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Atlanta Silverbacks' Jahbari Willis, a Brookwood grad, challenges Tampa Bay Rowdies' Takuya Yamada for a ball in the air Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Atlanta Silverbacks and Tampa Bay Rowdies played to a 0-0 draw Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.

Silverbacks Interim Head Coach Eric Wynalda was forced to make a pair of major changes to the starting lineup that featured in last week’s 4-2 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Forward Matt Horth, a goalscorer in six of his last eight games, was forced to sit due to injury, while midfielder Borfor Carr, a Central grad, was unable to follow up his standout performance from last week due to an illness.

The Rowdies came out showing plenty of intent on Saturday night, and it only took five minutes for them to create their first big scoring chance. Forward Luke Mulholland was played in on goal by forward Matt Clare, but the Englishman’s 10-yard strike slid just wide of the post.

The hosts continued to pressure the Silverbacks defense, and in the 43rd minute, defender Andres Arango should have put his team ahead. Silverbacks goalkeeper Daniel Illyes came out to meet a Rowdies corner kick, but his punch only got as far as Arango at the back post. The veteran defender was only three yards from the net, but failed to direct his shot on target, missing a big opportunity to give his team the lead.

Just seconds before halftime, Silverbacks defender Beto Navarro was whistled for a handball in the box, giving the Rowdies a penalty kick. Instead of the Rowdies regular kick-taker Mike Ambersley stepping up to the spot, it was Clare who would take the kick. The forward’s low shot was saved by Illyes, though, with the Hungarian goalkeeper diving to his left to keep the game scoreless.

Coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Silverbacks had the look of an improved side. Wynalda introduced Jamaican forward Horace James in the 61st minute, and it only took James five minutes to create the Silverbacks’ best scoring opportunity of the game. In his Silverbacks debut, he dribbled past Arango and fired a shot inches over the crossbar, coming close to beating Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.

The story of the game wasn’t the Silverbacks offense, though. The team’s defense had to be stout all night to withstand constant pressure from the hosts’ attack. Mulholland had a shot end up in the back of the Silverbacks net in the 86th minute, but it was called back for offsides. Adding to the Rowdies’ frustration, midfielder Keith Savage found substitute forward Evans Frimpong in the penalty area in the 89th minute, but the Ghanaian skied a shot over the net from just six yards out.

The result wasn’t exactly what the Silverbacks needed, as they sit seven points behind the Carolina RailHawks for the final playoff spot, however, the Rowdies came into Saturday’s contest as winners of seven of their last nine games, and five in a row at home, making a draw at Al Lang Stadium a respectable result.