On what will be an historic day for the organization, the Atlanta Silverbacks will suit up against one of America’s most storied soccer franchises, the New York Cosmos, for the first time in franchise history. The Silverbacks will visit the North American Soccer League (NASL) newcomers on Saturday night, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y.
The Cosmos – once home to international superstars such as Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia – captured five championships in the original NASL, and regularly competed against Atlanta’s first professional soccer team, the Chiefs.
The rich history of the Cosmos is a topic that could go on for days, but it has little significance when it comes to the action on the field this season. The reality is that the Cosmos are like every other NASL team with the one common goal – win the fall season and book their ticket to NASL Soccer Bowl 2013.
Fortunately for the Silverbacks, they’re the team awaiting that fall season winner, having already earned the right to host the game after winning the league’s Spring Season. Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes is fully aware that this weekend’s opponent, the Cosmos, could be the team headed to Atlanta Silverbacks Park on November 9.
“We’re very aware that the Cosmos could be the team we face in the Soccer Bowl, so I’m looking forward to seeing how we size up against them,” Haynes said. “There is always going to be respect for the other team because that is something that I preach to my players, but I don’t think our guys will be the least bit intimidated playing against the Cosmos on Saturday.”
The Silverbacks and Cosmos enter the weekend on the heels of identical results. The Silverbacks tied the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 1-1, at home last Saturday, and the Cosmos earned a hard-fought point on the road, playing to a 1-1 draw with FC Edmonton. Through five NASL Fall Season games, just two points separate the sixth-place Silverbacks with the third-place Cosmos, meaning a radical shift in the standings could occur this weekend with a Silverbacks win.
Desperate to recapture their early season form, the Silverbacks may benefit from heading on the road, oddly enough. Haynes’ club is unbeaten in their last five road games, with their last loss coming on May 12 in Edmonton. Overall, losses haven’t been the issue for the Silverbacks – it has been the draws. The Silverbacks have surrendered 1-0 leads in three of their last four games, settling for 1-1 results each time.
For the Cosmos, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride since joining the NASL in early August. Although they sit in third place, both of their wins have come thanks to last-second winners, and their only loss was a decisive one – a 3-0 loss to the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Cosmos Head Coach Giovanni Savarese has had early success in front of his home fans, guiding his team to a pair of wins in their first two home games. The Cosmos’ roster is full of experience and international flavor, with this week’s NASL Player of the Week Marcos Senna leading the way. The former Villarreal man is a veteran of the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro Championships, and UEFA Champions League.
Joining Senna as one of the driving forces of the Cosmos is fellow Spaniard Ayoze, who signed from Sporting Gijón. The pair represents just two of the Cosmos’ many playmakers – not to mention the club’s full compliment of players that boast extensive MLS experience like goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, defender Hunter Freeman, and forward Stefan Dimitrov.
Despite going up against an experienced back line, the Silverbacks have some firepower of their own in the attack. Forward Pedro Mendes, whose twin brother Paulo plays for the Cosmos, has bagged two of his five goals this season within the last four games, and attacking midfielders Pablo Cruz and Horace James seem to be getting more dangerous with every game. While the finishing wasn’t there last Saturday against the Rowdies, Cruz and James created a number of quality scoring chances that perhaps would have produced goals on another day.
The Silverbacks back line has been tremendous this year, having posted six clean sheets, including three away from home. Since May 25, the only time the Silverbacks have conceded more than one goal in a league game is their 2-1 loss to the Rowdies in late July.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday night, and the game can be seen live online at nasl.com/live. For those that want to watch the game with other Silverbacks fans, the club is hosting an Away Game Viewing Party at the Elder Tree Public House in East Atlanta.