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Silverbacks battle Stars to scoreless draw

Atlanta Silverbacks forward Matt Horth battles a Minnesota Stars defender for the ball Saturday at Atlanta Silverbacks Park in Atlanta.

Atlanta Silverbacks forward Matt Horth battles a Minnesota Stars defender for the ball Saturday at Atlanta Silverbacks Park in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Silverbacks fought to a 0-0 draw against Minnesota Stars FC on Saturday night in front of 3,911 fans at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.

Looking for his first official win as Silverbacks head coach, Brian Haynes fielded a similar lineup that battled to a scoreless draw on the road against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last weekend. The hosts’ defense was tested early on by Stars midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who narrowly missed a shot from the right side of the penalty area in the 5th minute.

Both teams settled in as the first half went on, trading possession and very few scoring opportunities. The Silverbacks first real scoring chance of the game didn’t come until the 42nd minute when midfielder Ciaran O’Brien picked out forward Matt Horth in front of the net. O’Brien’s low cross was met by Horth just six yards from goal, but his strong, one-timed effort was directed right into the hands of Stars goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel.

Ibarra came close to scoring for a second time in the 57th minute, but his right-footed shot ended up just inches wide, hitting the outside of the net.

The game’s most impactful moment came in the 61st minute when referee Niko Bratsis issued a red card to O’Brien. The referee showed O’Brien a yellow card for dissent, and then immediately reached into his back pocket for the red card after the Silverbacks midfielder said something else following the initial yellow card.

The ejection forced Haynes to change his tactics, with midfielders Horace James, Nico Colaluca, and Tony McManus all entering the game midway through the second half.

The Stars were boosted by the one-man advantage, and in the 80th minute they should have taken the lead. Forward Amani Walker was set up perfectly in front of net, but his point-blank shot ended up flying wide.

Despite being down a man, the Silverbacks nearly pulled off a dramatic victory in stoppage time with a pair of close scoring chances. First, James put pressure on Van Oekel, forcing a poor clearance from the Stars goalkeeper. The ball fell to Silverbacks midfielder Borfor Carr 40 yards from net, and the Central grad fired a long-range effort that ended up just inches wide of the post. James had the final opportunity for the Silverbacks, streaking down the right side of the field with just a minute remaining, but a last-second tackle in front of the net prevented him from getting a shot off.