With a 3-0 win in Minnesota and San Antonio's 2-0 defeat of the Carolina RailHawks, the Atlanta Silverbacks leaped back into first place in the NASL when it counted most -- after all the spring season games were over.
The results from Thursday night give Atlanta the spring title before the league's one-month break and, more importantly, mean the Silverbacks (6-3-3, 21 points) will host the league's title game in November. They will play the second-place finisher from the entire season's standings after the conclusion of the fall season, which Atlanta kicks off against Minnesota in August.
“I am so proud of these guys and how they played,” Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes told NASL.com. “We did what we had to do so I am so proud of the boys who gave a great effort against a good team and we took our chances well.”
Brad Stisser made the most of his start in place of Ruben Luna on Thursday, coming through with the only goal of the first half in the 30th minute. Atlanta defender Mike Randolph drew a foul on the left side of the field, setting up a free kick opportunity from the win. Pablo Cruz sent in an inswinger, and Stisser redirected it past United goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel for the 1-0 lead.
While Atlanta was in the locker room, Hans Denissen netted his seventh goal of the season for San Antonio (6-4-2, 20 points) late in the first half to put the Scorpions up 1-0 against Carolina (5-2-2, 20 points). If both results held through the final 45 minutes, it would be a title game berth for Atlanta.
Back in Blaine, Minn., Central grad Borfor Carr was subbed off early in the second half in favor of Horace James. It turned out fortunate for the Silverbacks. James went around United defender Kyle Altman and sent a low cross toward Bobby Reiss, who finished for his second goal in as many weeks to give Atlanta a much more comfortable 2-0 cushion.
Luna came on as a substitute for Atlanta and scored the third and final goal with a left-footed rip past Van Oekel with less than 10 minutes to go. The 3-0 lead secured Atlanta's win, but San Antonio was still clinging to a one-goal lead -- the same deficit Carolina overcame late Sunday to tie Atlanta and a week earlier for a 3-2 victory over Minnesota.
In the 87th minute, Atlanta was able to celebrate a little. Denissen put a shot into the net for the Scorpions for a 2-0 lead. San Antonio would hang on for the win.
The Silverbacks will announce title celebration and ticket sales for the Soccer Bowl in the coming days. Visit www.atlantasilverbacksfc.com for more information.