The Atlanta Silverbacks are back atop the North American Soccer League standings after earning a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Lockhart Stadium last Saturday night. The team now returns home to Atlanta for a huge test against the league’s defending champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
With just three games to play in the NASL Spring Season, the Silverbacks sit one point clear of the second-place Carolina RailHawks and three points ahead of third-place Minnesota United FC. The game that gave the top spot back to the Silverbacks wasn’t easy, though, with the team having to play down a man for over 30 minutes following a red card to midfielder Danny Barrera. A late penalty kick from midfielder Richie Menjivar provided the Silverbacks with an unlikely three points.
On the other side of the coin, the defending champs enter Saturday’s action on the heels of a disappointing home loss to the seventh-place San Antonio Scorpions. A late winner from Scorpions forward Hans Denissen in the 87th minute broke the hearts of the home fans, handing the Rowdies their third straight loss in all competitions.
For the Rowdies, it was their second straight league loss in which they conceded the game-winning goal in the final minutes. They’ll need to avoid any late-game breakdowns if they want to have any remaining chance of challenging for the NASL Spring Season Championship.
It hasn’t been all bad for the Rowdies of late. A few weeks back, they defeated Major League Soccer powerhouse Seattle Sounders FC in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup, and they also recently welcomed the return of forward Mike Ambersley, the club’s leading goal scorer over the last few seasons.
Add Ambersley to a formidable attack that includes Georgi Hristov, Amani Walker, Luke Mulholland, and former Newcastle United man Carl Cort, and you have a tough assignment for the Silverbacks’ back line. The Rowdies will need that normally high-powered attack to step up against the Silverbacks because they’ve only managed to produce three goals in their last five games across all competitions.
The Rowdies’ attack put three goals past the Silverbacks in the last meeting between these two teams, but the Silverbacks defensive unit has been much improved since then. Head Coach Brian Haynes’ team has only conceded one goal in their last four league games, earning three clean sheets.
Looking back at the aforementioned previous matchup between these two teams, it was a wild one. The Silverbacks went into halftime down 3-1 with two goals coming from Rowdies forward Luke Mulholland and midfielder Evans Frimpong netting the third. Silverbacks forward Ruben Luna netted one to keep it close.
The Silverbacks came out of the locker room with a vengeance, however, and ended up pulling off what seemed like the impossible. A pair of goals from forward Pedro Mendes and another from Luna gave the Silverbacks an improbable 4-3 road win against the defending champs.
The Silverbacks will want to make Saturday’s game count, as it’s their final home game of the 2013 Spring Season. The club will end with a pair of difficult road games against the two teams that are currently chasing them, the RailHawks and Minnesota United FC.
Haynes will surely be looking for an improvement in the Silverbacks’ attack on Saturday night, as the team has struggled to score goals in recent weeks. The team, which will be without Barrera due to a red card suspension, has scored only one goal in each of their last three league games, which likely won’t suffice against the Rowdies this weekend.
The Silverbacks and Rowdies will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. The club will be hosting many of the state’s soccer officials on “Referee Night” and there will be a special $2 Carlsberg Beer promotion. To purchase tickets, please call 404-969-4900 or visit altantasilverbacksfc.com.