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Silverbacks close in on first with win over RailHawks

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Silverbacks moved to within a point of first place in the NASL standings with a 2-0 win over the league-leading Carolina RailHawks on Saturday night.

Playing in front of 4,716 fans, the Silverbacks fielded a lineup featuring three changes from the team’s 3-0 loss to FC Edmonton last weekend. Defender Willie Hunt was handed his first start of the season, while forward Ruben Luna was reintroduced in place of Brookwood grad Jahbari Willis. Goalkeeper Eric Ati, a Grayson grad, received his first home start of his career, replacing the suspended Joe Nasco, who was shown a red card last Sunday.

The Silverbacks (3-2-1, 10 points) came out of the gates like a team ready to vault up the league standings, and it paid off just six minutes into the game. Forward Ruben Luna beat the offside trap, dribbled around RailHawks goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, and snuck a shot into the near post, giving his team a 1-0 lead.

Luna had another great opportunity in the 24th minute, but his close-range effort was tipped wide by Fitzgerald, who was called upon many times throughout the night.

While the Silverbacks owned the opening minutes, the momentum swung toward Carolina (3-1-2, 11 points) late in the first half. In the 40th minute, the RailHawks saw a shot cleared off the line by Silverbacks defender Marytn Lancaster.

The Silverbacks came out of the locker room at halftime with a clear purpose. Luna tested Fitzgerald just minutes into the second half, but it was in the 52nd minute where the tables would start to turn. RailHawks defender Floyd Franks was shown a straight red card following a challenge on Silverbacks midfielder Danny Barrera, reducing the visitors to 10 men.

The one-man advantage would start to show, with the Silverbacks taking control. Fans could sense a second goal coming for the Silverbacks, and in the 75th minute, it would come. The RailHawks could only clear a corner kick as far as Barrera, who would find midfielder Pablo Cruz out wide for another crossing opportunity. Cruz instead played it back to Barrera, who found the head of Lancaster for an easy goal.

The 2-0 score would hold up, despite RailHawks forward Brian Ackley having a goal called back for offside in the 90th minute.

“I didn’t care how we got the three points tonight. We needed to get back to our winning ways and we did that,” said Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes. “We worked hard for 90 minutes and I’m proud of the boys.”