Silverbacks knock off first-place Scorpions

ATLANTA -- San Antonio came to town with a chance to clinch first place in the NASL regular season, but it was Atlanta that played like the team with a title on the line.

Willie Hunt and Pedro Mendes scored goals for Atlanta, and Danny Barrera forced an own goal off a free kick in the Silverbacks' 3-1 win over the Scorpions on Wednesday.

The Silverbacks (7-8-12, 29 points) got on the board quickly in the third minute. Pedro Mendes drew a foul on the left side in Atlanta's first venture into the attacking third of the field. After Danny Barrera's free kick was headed out for a corner, Barrera put an inswinging corner from the right onto Willie Hunt's head at the six-yard box. Hunt knocked it past Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

"That was our game plan, to come right at them from the beginning," Hunt said, "and they needed a win to secure first place in the division. So we knew it wasn't going to be an easy game, and we wanted to come out and jump on top of them.

Four minutes later, Atlanta dodged a bullet. San Antonio sent in a good cross from the left. Pablo Campos got his head on the ball and sent it toward the goal, but the strike hit the crossbar and bounced down just in front of the goal line before getting cleared by Atlanta.

In the 40th minute, a deflection led to the Silverbacks' second goal. Barrera lined up for a free kick on the right wing about five yards from the corner of the box. His cross hit the head of San Antonio's Blake Wagner, and the redirect sent the ball into the net for an own goal and 2-0 Atlanta lead.

"(I'm) putting the ball in a good spot for anything to happen, and the luck went our way tonight," said Barrera, who assisted on Atlanta's other two goals. "It's a whole different team, a whole different philosophy (from earlier in the season). Players are jelling now, and it shows with our most recent results."

Josue Soto cut the Scorpions' deficit in half in the 69th minute. By himself near Atlanta's Martyn Lancaster and Tony McManus in the back, the midfielder won a ball, created some space about 25 yards out and ripped a shot from straight away that froze Atlanta goalkeeper Daniel Illyes and went to the upper corner of the net.

It was a superb goal from Soto, but the Scorpions didn't convert enough chances and gave up too many on the other end. Aside from that score, it was a great night for the Silverbacks on defense. McManus came on in the 18th minute for an injured Patrick Robertson and put together a solid game in defense.

"I was just in the right place in the right time," McManus said. "That's kind of the way you play center back. ... I give everybody else in the back credit, too, because they made it easy on me as well."

Mendes sealed the game with his fourth goal of the season in the 75th minute. Barrera took the ball in midfield and sent it on a perfect line to a sprinting Mendes. A one-touch shot across the goal put the ball in and Atlanta up 3-1.

"With all respects to (San Antonio) -- they've done what they've done I believe in my players," Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes said. "I can tell my players believe in each other, and the kind of performance they put on tonight, it could've been more than 3-1.

"We respect the team that's in first place, but I think I respect my boys a little more."

With Tampa Bay's tie with Carolina on Wednesday, San Antonio (13-7-7, 46 points) is still in first by two points and can clinch first place with a win Saturday against Minnesota or a loss or tie by Tampa Bay.

Atlanta will have a chance to double its win total from last year in its final game of the season Saturday at Puerto Rico.