Silverbacks begin fall season with 1-0 win

BLAINE, Minn. — The Atlanta Silverbacks have already booked their place as hosts of NASL Soccer Bowl 2013 in November, but that didn’t stop them from maintaining their momentum from the NASL Spring Season championship. The Silverbacks earned their second road win over Minnesota United FC in less than a month with a 1-0 win Saturday night at NSC Stadium.

The only difference in Saturday night’s match came from an unlikely source, as defender Mike Randolph tallied a goal in the 22nd minute to give the Silverbacks all that they would need to earn three points.

Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes fielded a starting lineup fairly similar to the one he put out on the night of their 3-0 victory on July 4 — the game that clinched his team the Spring Season title. Willie Hunt started in place of defender Mark Bloom, who left on loan to MLS side Toronto FC, while Brad Stisser was paired with Danny Barrera in the Silverbacks’ attack.

Minnesota (0-1-0, 0 points) started like a team ready for a new beginning after a very disappointing Spring Season campaign. Bolstered by the arrivals of midfielders Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic, both on loan from MLS side Montreal Impact, United tested Joe Nasco inside the opening 10 minutes. Nasco dove to his right to block a header from Pablo Campos, staying on his toes in the early going to keep the game scoreless.

The visiting Silverbacks (1-0-0, 3 points) started to take control as the half wore on, and they were rewarded with an early goal. Midfielder Milton Blanco lofted a pass out wide for Randolph, who took a touch and rifled a low shot into the corner of the net from about 14 yards out to make the score 1-0 in the 22nd minute.

There were few chances to speak of for the remainder of the first half, leaving the Silverbacks with a one-goal advantage after the opening 45 minutes. The Silverbacks were the first ones to fire warning shots in the second half, with midfielder Bobby Reiss’ header flying inches wide of Minnesota United goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel’s post in the 52nd minute.

Randolph continued to build on an already strong performance, coming up with a pair of crucial slide tackles to deny Minnesota United midway through the second half.

The home team wouldn’t go away, however, and it was Campos, the league’s leading scorer in 2012, who would become involved again. In the 78th minute, a cross was floated in toward the big Brazilian, but his header from eight yards out was directed right at Nasco.

Nasco had one more big save to make in order to preserve the shutout, and it came just two minutes from regulation in the 88th minute. A Minnesota corner kick bounced around the penalty area, falling to substitute forward Max Griffin. Griffin’s shot was from just five yards out, but Nasco was there again to deny Minnesota United and seal three points for his team.

The Silverbacks now sit in the same place they ended the league’s Spring Season — first place. The team returns home to Atlanta this week to prepare for their first home game of the Fall Season on August 10. The Silverbacks host the Carolina RailHawks at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.