Strikers hand Silverbacks first defeat of fall season

ATLANTA — On a night full of mistakes, Fort Lauderdale was able to capitalize for a goal, and Atlanta wasn’t.

Bradlee Baladez got open in the 34th minute and headed a cross from Ivan Guerrero into the net for the lone goal in a 1-0 win for the Strikers over the Silverbacks on Saturday.

It was a crazy night that saw Atlanta (1-1-2, 5 points) play much better down a man in the second half after a red card on Danny Barrera for an incident with Fort Lauderdale’s Manny Gonzalez in the 45th minute.

The game finished with the Silverbacks catching a lucky break on a bad mistake by Richard Sanchez. The Strikers goalkeeper collected a ball with his hands. He then placed the ball on the ground and recollected it with his hands after Atlanta went to put pressure on the ball — a foul that gave the Silverbacks an indirect free kick from the six-yard line.

The entire Strikers team created a wall of yellow in front of the goal, leaving Atlanta just the slight space between bodies and about two feet above the heads of the players and below the crossbar. Pablo Cruz tapped it to Pedro Mendes, who fired a shot into the wall that was deflected. Cruz tried to head the rebound back toward goal, but he didn’t hit it cleanly enough to put it on target.

“After the shot, it bounced right to my head and I tried to place it back on goal,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately it didn’t go in.”

The Strikers (2-2-0, 6 points), also didn’t come out very sharp to begin the game. But in the sixth minute, they nearly scored on a free kick. Mark Anderson lofted the ball from about 30 yards out into the box, but Baladez was just short of catching up and the ball went out for a goal kick.

Barrera created a couple of chances for Atlanta early on, nearly connecting with Horace James on a free kick in the 13th minute and taking a shot straight at Sanchez from 25 yards out in the 17th minute.

Both teams played with more purpose in the second half. Atlanta put more pressure on the offensive side needing a goal to tie the game, and the Strikers took counterattacking chances trying to catch Atlanta napping. Darnell King nearly netted a second goal early in the second half on a counter, but Joe Nasco made a leaping save to keep Atlanta in the game in the 51st minute.

“I don’t feel that the team played all that great,” Nasco said. “In the first half, I definitely know we didn’t. It showed. We were definitely playing slow with the ball and seemed real timid. We didn’t want to attack with the ball.

“James was a real spark on offense in the second half. He easily could’ve scored a hat trick in the final 45.”

James was just wide on a couple of headers in the box, and Sanchez made the save of the game when James got past the defense after controlling a long ball and was stuffed by the goalkeeper near the edge of the goal box.

“We were hotter in the second half,” James said. “The first half was pretty flat when we came out. We tried our best, played really hard, but we just couldn’t capitalize on our chances.”

Atlanta Coach Brian Haynes was upset with both how his team played early and with calls not going the Silverbacks’ way.

“I think we came out flat,” he said. “We didn’t play as well as we should. We’re playing against a team that I thought was an inferior team to us. We played down to their level. That was our problem. We can’t afford to do that.

“We had to go three in the back (in the second half) because we’re trying to push the game. We had to go with four in midfield and two up top. We tried to push the game, but it’s difficult to push a game when you have a ref like that. He was terrible.”