Blaine, Minn. (July 4, 2013) – On a wild night in North American Soccer League play, the Atlanta Silverbacks captured the league’s Spring Season title and an opportunity to host the Soccer Bowl, the league’s championship game in November. The Silverbacks topped Minnesota United FC, 3-0, Thursday night in Blaine, Minn. and clinched the title 15 minutes later when the San Antonio Scorpions clinched a 2-0 win over the Carolina RailHawks, who led the league going into the final match night of the season.
The Silverbacks entered Thursday night's action knowing that only a win would keep them in the title race. Head Coach Brian Haynes fielded a slightly different lineup than the one that earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw on the road against the Carolina RailHawks last weekend. Forward Brad Stisser started in place of Ruben Luna and defender Willie Hunt anchored the back line in the absence of Beto Navarro, who missed his first action of the season due to a red card suspension.
Despite being out of the running for the Spring Season title, Minnesota United was the side that looked more dangerous early in the game. Just two minutes into the game, Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco had to palm a Minnesota United header off the post and out of play for a corner kick, narrowly keeping the game scoreless.
In the 23rd minute, Minnesota United would come close to scoring again - this time through forward Max Griffin. Midfielder Kevin Venegas dribbled down the left flank and sent a looping cross into Griffin, whose open header flew over the bar.
The Silverbacks started to control possession midway through the first half, and it built confidence throughout the side. It didn't take long for the Silverbacks' confidence to have an impact on the scoreboard, with the visitors grabbing the lead in the 30th minute.
Defender Mike Randolph drew a foul deep into the home team's defensive half, giving midfielder Pablo Cruz an opportunity to send in a dangerous free kick. Cruz's pass met the head of forward Brad Stisser, who converted beautifully past Minnesota United goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel to give his team a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute.
The first half ended without any additional scoring chances, but in the final 45 minutes, the Silverbacks kicked it into another gear and played Minnesota United off their own home field.
Early in the second half, Haynes was forced to bring on midfielder Horace James in place of an injured Borfor Carr. The substitute immediately made an impact, playing a part in the Silverbacks’ second goal. In the 73rd minute, James rounded Minnesota United defender Kyle Altman and sent in a low cross towards midfielder Bobby Reiss, who finished perfectly past Van Oekel to double his team’s advantage.
Less than 10 minutes later, the ball was in the back of Van Oekel’s net again – this time thanks to Luna, who came on in place of forward Pedro Mendes. The former Mexico U-20 international pressured the home team’s backline, forcing a turnover just outside the penalty area. Luna proceeded to fire a left-footed firecracker past Van Oekel to make it 3-0 and assure the Silverbacks all three points.
While the Silverbacks held up their end of the bargain, they still needed the San Antonio Scorpions to top the RailHawks to clinch the title. The Scorpions clung to a 1-0 lead late in the game, despite numerous scoring opportunities for the RailHawks. The visiting RailHawks hit the post, and even had a goal called back for offsides in their quest to level the score, but it was the Scorpions’ night at Toyota Field in San Antonio.
Forward Hans Denissen notched his second goal of the game in the 87th minute to secure a 2-0 win for the Scorpions and second place in the NASL Spring Season standings. The win by the Scorpions gave the Silverbacks the title and the right to host the Soccer Bowl in November. It’s the first year the NASL has operated under a split-season format, meaning the Silverbacks can head into their “off month” on cloud nine.
The Silverbacks will be releasing title celebration details and Soccer Bowl ticket information in the coming days. Fans and media can stay tuned to atlantasilverbacksfc.com to receive all of the updates surrounding the team’s NASL Spring Season title.