Atlanta will return to the scene of the July 4 celebration Saturday when the Silverbacks travel back to Minnesota for the beginning of the NASL fall season against United at 8 p.m.
The Silverbacks rose to the top of the league when it counted after a couple of brief trips atop the table earlier in the season. The win over Minnesota and a loss minutes later by Carolina meant Atlanta will host the NASL Soccer Bowl, the league championship game to be played Nov. 9 at Silverbacks Park.
While the league itself will mostly be celebrating the return of one of the most storied names in American soccer, the New York Cosmos, Atlanta has its eyes on staying sharp.
“Other teams might think that we’re just going to take it easy because we’ve already booked our place in the final, but they’ll be in for a bit of a rude awakening if they do that,” Coach Brian Haynes said in a release. “I’m not in the least bit satisfied right now. Yes, we won the first half, but as far as I’m concerned, we could have done much better.”
One point in the first half that Atlanta can look to for improvement was a 1-1 tie against FC Edmonton. Atlanta went into the game having just clawed its way into first place, a huge swing from the struggles it faced in the 2012 campaign before a major staff shakeup.
In the 31st minute of the game, Edmonton’s Chris Nurse received his second yellow card of the game, resulting in a red card and ejection, giving the Silverbacks an hour to put up some goals and perhaps put some distance between them and the competition.
Brad Stisser put in his first goal of the season in the 61st minute, but Neil Hlavaty hit a cracker of a goal off a free kick for the final 1-1 score.
“We had a good opportunity to finish a game off, and we didn’t,” Haynes said after the game. “That’s what happens when you play against a wounded animal. You’ve got to take care of it, take it outs of its misery.”
The Atlanta roster is mostly the same as it was when the spring season ended. On Friday, the team announced the signings of midfielders Alex Caceres and Jesus Gonzalez and the departure of forward Andy Herron. Defender Mark Bloom will also be gone at least for the remainder of the season after being loaned to Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
The city of New York has gained a lot of soccer attention this year with both the addition of the Cosmos to the NASL fall schedule and the announcement of a second Major League Soccer team in the Big Apple, giving the area three teams in the top two divisions of soccer once New York City FC joins the Red Bulls in MLS.
The Cosmos have added a couple of former Silverbacks — goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, who grew up in Lawrenceville, and midfielder Paulo Mendes, the twin brother of Atlanta’s Pedro Mendes. Former Columbus Crew member Danny Szetela, who signed with the MLS club at age 16, is also a part of the Cosmos.
New York will begin play at 7 p.m. Saturday against Fort Lauderdale. Carolina opens up at 7 p.m. against FC Edmonton, and San Antonio will play Tampa Bay at 8:30 p.m. to complete the first week’s schedule.
After Saturday’s road game, Atlanta will make its first trip back home next Saturday to play the Carolina RailHawks. The game will include a poster giveaway to the first 1,500 fans and the spring season trophy presentation by NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson after the game.