In the wildest game of the 2013 NASL season, the Atlanta Silverbacks came back from a 3-1 halftime deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 4-3, Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Midfielder Pedro Mendes and forward Ruben Luna each bagged a pair of goals to give the Silverbacks an improbable comeback win against the league’s defending champions.
Head Coach Brian Haynes only made one change from the lineup he fielded in the club’s 2-0 season-opening win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, starting defender Mike Randolph in place of defender Shane Moroney. The lineup produced a quality scoring opportunity almost immediately, with defender Mark Bloom’s glancing header forcing a huge diving save from Rowdies goalkeeper Andrew Fontein.
Just two minutes later, however, the Rowdies would create their first chance of the game, and they would make the most of it. Forward Amani Walker sent in a deep cross that found midfielder Luke Mulholland. The Englishman headed it down for fellow midfielder Evans Frimpong, who looped an impressive half volley over the outstretched arms of Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco to make it 1-0.
The Silverbacks would respond midway through the second half when midfielder Borfor Carr sent a perfect cross into the box for Luna to power home. It was the former FC Dallas forward’s first goal of the season, and it tied up the score at 1-1 in the 23rd minute.
Teams can often times be most vulnerable after scoring, and that was the case following Luna’s goal. This time around Mulholland was the one celebrating for the Rowdies, expertly finishing a cross from forward Georgi Hristov to make it 2-1 in the 24th minute.
Mulholland continued his first-half dominance when he doubled the Rowdies’ advantage with a goal in the 42nd minute. He stood over a free kick from about 20 yards away, and curled it past a confused Nasco and into the net to make the score 3-1.
It was a deflating way to enter the locker room at halftime, but the Silverbacks wouldn’t go away easily. After Haynes pulled center back Martyn Lancaster in favor of forward Horace James, it was clear the Silverbacks were going for the win. Only nine minutes into the second half, the strategy paid its first dividends. Mendes took a layoff from midfielder Richie Menjivar and the Brazilian fired home from some 30 yards to cut the Rowdies lead to 3-2.
In the 63rd minute, the Silverbacks managed to achieve what seemed improbable at halftime – tie the game. Luna somehow beat the Rowdies defense to a lazy long ball played over the top, and poked the ball off Fontein and into the net to equalize at 3-3.
The Silverbacks were just getting started, though. As if a two-goal comeback to tie the game wasn’t enough, Haynes’ side would take the lead in the 70th minute. Milton Blanco laid the ball off for Mendes at the top of the penalty area, and the Brazilian powered home his second goal of the game off the hands of Fontein to give his team a 4-3 lead.
The game produced a nervy ending, with the Silverbacks coming close to increasing their one-goal advantage on several occasions, but the score stood at 4-3 and the Silverbacks walked away with a memorable win.
The Silverbacks return home next Saturday to host Minnesota United at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. It will be Youth Soccer Night at the stadium, presented by Georgia Soccer, and the Silverbacks will be offering a special ticket package featuring four tickets for $44. To purchase tickets or find out more information, call 404-969-4900 or visit atlantasilverbacksfc.com.
SILVERBACKS LINEUP: GK Nasco, D Randolph, D Lancaster (James – 45’), D Navarro, D Bloom, M Menjivar, M Blanco, M Carr, M Barrera, M Mendes (Cruz – 82’), F Luna (Willis – 69’)
ROWDIES STARTING XI: GK Fontein D Sanfilippo, D Needham, D Yamada, D Cox, M Frimpong (Del Do – 74’), M Mulholland, M Hill, M Savage (Dixon – 65’), F Walker, F Hristov